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It will soon be time for the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections, which will take place on Thursday week 6, in which we will vote on who we would like to make key decisions based on crime and policing. This is the first time that such elections have been held, and commissioners will replace police authorities across the UK, having a democratic mandate over police forces across the UK.
I have to say, these elections have crept up on me without me noticing them. The government has done a terrible job at promoting these elections. The positions of different candidates have not been publicised well at all, no information has been sent out to constituents, and you really have to search in order to decide which candidate to vote for. Although background research is necessary when making your mind up about any election, the complete lack of any information about the candidates or media coverage of the elections means that casual voters may decide against voting in this election. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has expressed her worries over the voter turnout at the elections, and has criticised the government’s perceived failure to publicise them, saying that “they have made a shambles of this, for something that was supposed to be their flagship policy”.
Another problem with this system is the affiliation of the PCCs to various political parties. All of the major parties have put candidates forward for the election, but should this really be the case? Surely a role dedicated entirely to tackling crime should be above party politics, although the government insists that this will not politicise the police. The original proposal by the Conservative party talked about attracting a large number of independent candidates, attempting to bypass these issues, but they strangled this proposal by requiring each candidate to pay a £5000 deposit, which implies that this was never something that they truly considered. I understand that each political party may have a different approach to how to tackle crime, but in an era where the police forces have been criticised for “political policing”, surely further tying the police forces to the political system is a step backwards.
Sir Ian Blair, former Metropolitan police commissioner, has encouraged people to boycott the elections, citing that the police areas are too large to be represented by any one individual. On paper, they will have limited influence, setting police budgets, which will be unlikely to change the situation in police forces across the country. Furthermore, they are not supposed to influence the day-to-day operation of police forces, which will remain the responsibility of chief constables. However, they will have the power to hire and fire chief constables, and will probably have a greater influence on crimefighting than their remit would initially suggest.
In the end, only time will tell if the Police and Crime Commissioner role is a success or not. However, with a low turnout predicted, the legitimacy of the role will be in question from the very beginning. There is much to criticise about the way that this role has been publicised, and the way that it will be implemented. Therefore, I feel that the role is already questionable, and long-term implementation will be a great mistake.