I've never cringed so much in such a short period of time. Channel 4's 'Meet the Commissioner' documentary, aired on Thursday night, was car-crash TV. Billed it as a look into the 'surreal' world of Kent's Police & Crime Commissioner, 'farcical' would be my adjective of choice. 'I'm the Police Commissioner,' she said to a young man in Asda. 'Girl power'. Her words of advice to retiring Chief Constable Ian Learmonth? Take up drinking or get a job. Unbelievable.
As I watched, it became clear that at the root of all Ann Barnes's litany of gaffes and problems since taking office is the fact that, two years on, she still hasn't worked out what she's for. This is driven home, painfully, when she can't answer the simple question of what a PCC actually is. Diving for the safety of a flip chart, in lieu of a comfort blanket, she misspells the acronym and waffles about the lack of a job description. Woeful.
It's a pretty fundamental point. As a councillor, I know exactly what I was elected to do. My Member of Parliament is absolutely clear about what his constituents expect from him. But I don't think Ann Barnes knows why she's there. It would explain everything; the continual stream of gimmicks - the Youth Commissioner, 'Ann Force One' - and the lack of discernable impact our current PCC has had on Kent's policing.
But it is no comedy. I would understand if Kent's taxpayers watched Ann Barnes in action on Thursday night and concluded that as PCC she is, in her own words, 'unnecessary' and 'a wilful waste of public money'. I understand if, based on the evidence before them, they wanted to scrap the position altogether. And that is where farce becomes tragedy, because Kent's PCC should be playing a vital role in the life of our county.
Our Police & Crime Commissioner should be creating and selling a vision of how policing will work in this new, more realistic, world of limited public funds. Where do we deploy finite resources? How do we drive down costs while maintaining front-line services? What does Kent's public need and want from their police service? What's achievable, what's not?
I see no evidence of this sort of innovative thinking from Ann Barnes. I see little evidence of any thinking at all, to be honest, besides the much-repeated mantra 'visible community policing'. Much-repeated, but to what end?
Throughout the show it became frighteningly clear that Ann Barnes is lost at sea. She clearly loves the power - 'I can direct the Chief Constable in any way I wish' - but has no idea how to respond to national political events, has no political skills whatsoever - think four-hour public meetings - and her only solution to cuts in funding is to make 'local people pay more'; the stock answer of every bog-standard politician throughout history. It was just awful.
Ann Barnes's credibility was damaged enough before Thursday night. Now, I don't see how she can continue in her role for the next two years. She has exhausted the patience of the public. She should seriously consider whether she has the public support necessary to see out the remainder of her term.
The introduction of Police & Crime Commissioners was a genuinely radical move. Unaccountable bureaucracies were replaced with a single, elected, accountable person. PCCs should make policing more democratic and transparent. They should be driving a revolution in the relationship between the police and the people. They should be doing great things.
What a shame, then, that Kent's Commissioner has become a national joke.
What a wasted opportunity.Suggest a correction