Most people outside of political parties in the UK and even some in the parties but outside of the cohorts of MPs and Councillors and their closest friends recognise that while we get a chance to vote for a representative every 4 – 5 years, that this is a long way short of our voices being heard. Of course some elected representatives are very good at engaging with their constituents and when these people are compared to those who cannot be bothered to do so, they should be endorsed and promoted to ensure that their style and approach is well rewarded. However sadly in most cases, the party officials who select the candidates we are invited to vote for endorse the candidates who pay them more attention than the potential constituents!
In settings such as Councils, in theory at least, residents will be listened to because in many cases there is a mix of political parties who represent the same local ward. Whilst the mixed wards are dominated by the various party politics, they do offer a more absorbent capacity than if the Council is made up of a single party. When the Police Authorities which were first established in the mid 1960’s were extended to include nearly 50% of independent members in the mid 1990’s this made a huge difference and although the selection of these members was controlled in an opaque manner, it had the potential to increase the way in which diverse voices were heard in the governance of Police services. This was similar to how most charities operate with Trustees who seek to bring in the views of people in the settings they are based in. By comparison to the 17 member Police Authority in Sussex, our single Police and Crime Commissioner covers an area which is represented in Parliament by 16 MPs and literally hundreds of Councillors which means it is impossible for one person to be able to hear all 1.5m voices.
If Nick Hurd wants his claim made last Tuesday that “Through the election of police and crime commissioners, communities including those in rural areas, have a strong voice in determining how police resources are allocated to tackle the crimes that most matter to them” to be taken seriously, then significant change is now needed. One element is that we need to introduce a wider range of voices into the Police and Crime Panels including people who come from outside of political parties which are agencies that are assembled from only 1% of the UK population. Indeed when David Cameron introduced the PCC role he called it “a big job for a big local figure” and one that was not “just for politicians” but people “who’ve done things and run organisations.” Tragically only 3 PCCs across the country now come close to this because all of the rest are paid up members of one of two political parties. This dominance of two party politics in roles that are so significant and cover such a huge area is made much worse by the move from 9 party politicians and 8 independent members of Police Authorities to mostly one party PCC and 17 party based PCP members and 2 independents. This problem is exasperated by the fact that the party which dominates the PCP also generally wins the election of the PCC. Assuming that the dominance of this party in the PCP can be removed, the group then needs to be given much greater powers than it currently has. The PCP currently has very little influence over the work of the PCC as a result of the constitutional limits of its role which means that their capacity to raise concerns they have heard from voices at a local level is almost non existent.
Given that in May 2020 we will be electing the next range of PCCs perhaps Nick and his colleagues can take this suggestion on board and restructure the role of the PCCs and PCP.