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Police Commissioner: Time to Decide

Police Commissioner Time to VoteWe're now a week away from 15th November when we (well those of us on the electoral roll) get to vote for someone who, it is hoped, will commission policing services on our behalf. Someone who will agree (or not) the budget that the Chief Constable says he needs; someone who will set the priorities for Lancashire policing;, and someone who can hire and fire the Chief Constable.

We introduced the topic back in (Copping For It - A Dim View?) last February, when few had heard anything about it. Then in 'Police Commissioner' in August we did an in-depth article covering most aspects and all the candidates at the time.

Since then, two more candidates have come forward, Afzal Anwar standing for the Liberal Democrats, and Robert Drobny for the UK Independence Party. We nothing about the character of either, so we'll refrain from comment. Readers can follow this link for the official blurb from all candidates

We've only just noticed a quirk in the post title - which is actually "Police and Crime Commissioner for Lancashire."  We are not impressed with the grammar of whoever invented that title. Whilst we can understand someone commissioning police services, we're much less enthusiastic about them commissioning crime.

We've also been hearing from our readers on this matter. Most of those who made contact are, like us, singularly unimpressed with the idea at all, and with what they see as another huge waste of our money.

Apart from direct costs, there are numerous organisations - from the probably predictable 'Youth Offending Teams' to the less obvious 'Women’s Resource Centre who are being re-shaped or adapted to fit into the new Police and Crime Commissioner systems - though not all use public money of course.

But there are big sums of public money are being spent - including provisions for 'Transition Boards' who will:

  • establish the PCC and the Chief Constable as a legal entity
  • work with the returning officer in the election of the police and crime commissioner, including the management of the interface of candidates with the Authority and the Force
  • provide for staff selection, recruitment, transfer, induction and ongoing training
  • establish the local policing body's governance, control and accountability framework
  • develop the local policing body's crime role, to include work with crime and disorder reduction partnerships, the wider criminal justice system and all other agencies key to the delivery of the crime agenda
    establish the mechanisms by which the local policing body will meet its statutory consultation duties
  • develop planning documentation, statutory and otherwise
    establish the budget requirements and ensure adequate and timely budget provision and establish financial management systems
  • develop the local policing body's communication, procedures and processes with the police and crime panel
  • develop an appropriate and effective complaints process
  • develop a communications and public relations strategy
  • maintain custody visitor schemes
  • produce statutory publications
  • develop a working and technical environment
  • agree transfer of liabilities
  • Management of risk

And that's only to manage these aspects of the transition between the present Police Authority and the new Police and Crime Commissioner.

Phew!

Another reader has had a postal vote already.  And it seems as though some sort of transferable voting system is going to be in use - where we will be asked to provide our ‘First Choice’ and ‘Second Choice’ of candidate.

Do they not listen to what we say?.

The Liberal Democrat dream of a referendum on proportional representation voting systems suffered a landslide defeat at the hands of Joe Public only six months ago - so (assuming that's what ‘First Choice’ and ‘Second Choice’ is about), why is the same logic being slipped in through the back door in this election!

One reader told us he had rung the advice number to say he couldn't understand the voting papers. He also couldn't understand what the Police Commissioner was expected to do, and without understanding that, he wanted to know how he could compare the abilities of the applicants?

He also wanted to know how people without internet access could find out about each of the applicants.

Without knowing something about them, he said, they would just be names on the voting slip. How could non-internet people find out about the backgrounds, successes and failures and - particularly - their suitability for the job.

He also wanted to know whether, (under the first choice and second choice system), he could vote for the same person as his first and second choice?

Interesting question, we thought.

Next came the issue that's annoying most of the people we have spoken to: Why have applicants been proposed by political parties if the job has no political allegiance, and the successful person has to positively affirm that they won’t be any political slant on their decisions?

If you accept the idea of changing to a Police Commissioner (which we don't), we're not quite as opposed to candidates standing on a party political ticket as most of our readers are.

To us it's a question of scale.

In Parish and Borough Elections, it's roughly 1,000 to 3,000 electors  per candidate. There's a reasonable prospect on that scale that you know, or know someone who knows, or you know something of, the candidates.

In a County Council election with about 10,000 electors per candidate, it  gets a bit harder to expect to know the candidates.

In a Parliamentary election, there are around 100,000 electors per candidate, there's no real prospect that you could know much about any of the candidates.

In the Police and Crime Commissioner election, the whole of Lancashire is enfranchised to vote. We don't know exactly how many electors there are, but the population is 1,449,300 so it will probably be around 1m. With numbers like that, there is no prospect of any individual voter knowing the candidates, so - as with MP's, you need to use the party grouping to have something of an idea of what you might get if you vote.

The problem counterbalance has is that we don't actually want the election in the first place. The old "Police Authority" wasn't a perfect system, but it used the might of 25 or so brains rather than one, and apart from them presenting a greater breadth an depth of experience than one person could, 25 are much less open to being induced to follow one line or another - either by  political activists, special interest groups, or - if you think about it - worse situations of potential inducement.

So, whilst we can see a reason to use political parties when it's one candidate to a million or so voters,  we think it's pretty ridiculous to have a voting block as big as the whole of Lancashire anyway.

Another of our readers told us they'd been contacted by email by one of the candidates who said they thought the result would be very close and getting people out to vote would be the key.

There followed a request to our reader (along with another 200 or so email recipients) asking for help with delivering newspapers; phoning postal voters and using a pre-written script to make sure they've sent in their voting papers; and donating to the candidate's 'fighting fund' - to enable him to write to potential voters asking them not to forget to vote on November 15th.

We think that candidate could be right. It might be close.

But the bigger issue will be how many people bother to vote at all.

We suspect turnout will be very low, and would not be shocked to see a turnout of less than 20%, and maybe even less than 10% - giving whoever is appointed no mandate of popular support.

Despite the TV coverage and media saturation, hardly anyone we know is planning to go and vote, and literally most of those who have said they will vote intend to spoil their ballot papers with a message like 'None of the above' or 'None'

Just as we were finalising this article another email dropped into the mailbox asking if we'd seen the "10 point plan" put out by one of the Lancashire candidates.

Our reader wrote to tell us we can look forward to point 9 which says "Focus road safety activity on the areas where there are the most accidents"  - before going on to note "that would be why he supports 20mph in my little cul-de-sac then"
 
Apparently point 10 is to  "involve the public in setting priorities in their areas..."  - Our correspondent - with tongue firmly in cheek - notes that we should be 'glad we are so important that we are bottom of the list !'
 
They say in their opinion, the rest of his points can be taken apart and shredded too, but the above were two that just jumped off the page !

Here at counterbalance, we've had a difficult time trying to decide what to do on this matter ourselves.

Voting is hardwired into our psyche, so couldn't possibly not go to vote.

From the choice of four available, there's one candidate who we couldn't bring ourselves to vote for if they were the last candidate on earth. And another who is not far behind. Choosing one of the other two would help to defeat the one we absolutely don't want, but then, when we heard it was likely to be a transferable voting system, that made the decision for us. We're going to join those readers who will spoil their papers. It's going to be 'None of the above' as far as we're concerned.

That's the only way we can show our displeasure at being asked to vote for something we don't agree with in principle, and where we are asked to vote in a way in which we don't agree either.

Dated:  8 November 2012

UPDATE 10 NOVEMBER 2012
We're grateful (as ever) to an eagle- eyed reader who spotted a website describing in detail how the vote will be conducted. You can follow this link to find out more about what's called the 'Supplementary Vote Systembut our reader says:

"There are two voting columns - Second votes only count where the first  vote was for a candidate who is eliminated so voting for the same candidate is first and second is valid but the second vote would never be counted

If no candidate has more than 50% of the vote, all candidates apart from those in the first and second place are eliminated.

If you make a mistake then you can ask the polling staff to give you a replacement ballot paper."

 


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