Tomorrow, voters are for the first time entitled to vote for Police and Crime Commissioners in 41 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales. The elections will take place on the same day that parliamentary by-elections will be held in Cardiff South and Penarth, Corby and Manchester Central, but quite to what extent these elections will grip the public imagination remains to be seen. In my area, I have seen no publicity for any of the candidates standing, and only today, after a bit of digging, discovered that there would be four of them in total, with three hailing from the big mainstream Westminster parties and one independent. If the voter wishes to see what each candidate stands for, it is necessary to trawl through their statements online such as at this site here entitled quite simply Police Elections.
Some will argue that the chance to elect the Commissioners will make the police more accountable to the local electorate, but given that a considerable proportion of those who turn out to vote will not know what the candidates stand for, can this be adjudged to be an effective democratic exercise? Moreover, what percentage of the electorate will bother to turn out in those areas where the numbers are not boosted by parliamentary by-elections? At a guess, the percentage is likely to be small.
Another issue that the direct election of the Police and Crime Commissioners raises is that of the overt party politicisation of the police. Do we really wish to have individuals acting in line with party political agendas in such positions? Would it not be better for the police to attempt to remain aloof from party politics altogether? Moreover, at a time when the police are experiencing cuts in their budget, is spending money on these elections a good use of funds? Could they not be used to better effect elsewhere?