The idea that someone independent of the main political parties could successfully win an election as a Police Commissioner without Government money is a joke. The Police Minister - Nick Herbert has said that independent candidates will not get Government money for even a single mail shot - which is something they would get for other elections. He has said that there will be a website that voters can go to in order to find out who is standing and they can request details be sent to them as required.
The Electoral Commission says that seven million people who do not have the internet will be excluded from even this information. More to the point the majority of the electorate will simply not go and look up who the candidates are. Anyone with any experience of what it takes to get elected knows this!
This is the electoral equivalent of Douglas Adam's fictional Vogon invaders telling Arthur Dent that the plans for the destruction of Earth were clearly displayed in a locked cabinet in a cellar with no light or stairs - sorry if you have not read Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
More to the point - Mr Herbert must know this - he has stood for election at least twice. He must know that no one stands a chance of being elected to these posts without thousands of people knowing something about them and that to get elected to anything you have to tell people about yourself and send them information and knock on their doors and phone them. All of this the main political parties can do - anyone but the richest of independent candidates cannot.
I have stood as candidate in three small local elections (won two, lost one) - the same principles apply to bigger elections - you have to tell people about yourself and then tell them again. Mr Herbert must know what it takes to win an election so why does he dismiss the concerns of potential independent candidates?
If the Government is serious about having independent candidates with even a remote chance of winning then they should pay for at least one mailshot. Mr Herbert has claimed that this would be too expensive at £25-35 million and that we simply cannot afford this in these difficult times - but apparently we can afford to pay for the change to elected Commissioners itself in these difficult times. Does this suggest that the Government simply does not think the election process for Police Commissioners is important enough to invest in or are they content that the main political parties should be left to contest the elections - with a number of Conservatives winning of course?
More worrying is that we are drifting towards a fundamental change in the way policing is run in this country with a predicted low turnout and a lack of public interest and consultation.
We can all recognise that there is room for improving the way Police are held to account - but it is wrong to suppose that simply putting politicians from the main political parties in charge of policing is guaranteed to improve accountability. After all Mr Herbert is an elected politician and he did not seem very accountable in a recent interview with Evan Davis about the issue of likely voter turnout for the Police Commissioner elections. Aren't we going to get more of the same from any elected Commissioners?
The idea of independent minded individuals with the right skills holding Police to account on behalf of the public is a nice idea - but that's all it is - an idea. In reality it is the main political parties that will take over policing with all the problems that will bring. If you belong to a Party and you are running the Police then you are likely to work to appeal to your core voters and they may not be the ones that need the protection of the Police the most.
Police are often criticised and mistrusted - sometimes with good cause and sometimes not. What is going to happen when they are known to a run by a Party politician? They are going to be accused of acting for political motives and it will be no good going on about the Chief Constable being independent of his political boss when that boss can fire him!
The Ipsos MORI Veracity Poll puts politicians at the bottom of the table of groups people trust (or don't trust) - the police rate much higher. How is putting the least trusted group in charge going to improve public trust and accountability in policing?
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