Coffee House

Who are the BBC to question the legitimacy of Police & Crime Commissioners?

14 November 2012

What’s the test of success of the Police & Crime Commissioners policy? It is, surely, whether the 41 individuals who will be elected tomorrow succeed in cutting crime and antisocial behaviour, and rebuilding public confidence in policing. This is not, however, the test which the BBC – and others – intend to apply. Their correspondent Danny Shaw told the Today Programme this morning that ‘the initial verdict on the success of the PCC experiment will hinge to a large degree on the turnout ….’

Setting aside the throwaway line that giving people a vote is an ‘experiment’, this is surely a deeply contentious comment. Who, you might say, are the poll-tax raising and entirely unaccountable BBC to deliver a ‘verdict’ about legitimacy? Their reporters never stop asking ministers to declare what the threshold for a successful election is, on the assumption that there must be one. Well, what’s the BBC’s? What proportion of the vote permits them to declare any election a failure? Because Parliament didn’t set one.

Hilary Benn was elected to the Commons in a by-election on a turnout of less than 20 per cent. Was he declared to have no standing as an MP? What about the councils that rule with a fraction of the votes of their local electorate? And forgive me if I’ve missed it, but when did the BBC ever question the legitimacy of MEPs (turnout in 1999, 23 per cent), never mind the European Commission? Yes, declining voter engagement in all elections is a real issue. But as the former President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Ken Jones, said on Monday, this is a bigger question, a trend which PCC elections can hardly be expected to buck.

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As Policing Minister I spent two and a half years or more listening to the invented horrors that this democratic reform would bring. The BNP would be elected (they haven’t even fielded a candidate). Independent candidates wouldn’t stand (they did, and some have a chance of being elected). Chief constables would resign en masse (not yet). PCCs might focus on issues of public concern to the detriment of policing (perish the thought).

A few weeks ago, I attended a regular meeting between West Sussex MPs and council leaders. One of my colleagues was bemoaning the lack of effective action – including by the police – to deal with travellers invading land and making the lives of the community a misery. Even a meeting with the chief constable had produced no action. We all nodded our heads and wondered what we could do about it. And then someone said: ‘Of course, after 15th November, we’ll have someone to sort this out.’

Indeed we will. Our Conservative PCC Candidate in Sussex knows there’s a problem.  She’s surveyed residents and it’s one of the things they told her. Last Saturday, she visited one of the communities affected. ‘The law abiding who play by the rules are being let down,’ she said. One resident told me that if only a PCC had been in office, the community would have known who to go to in the first place.

The PCCs elected tomorrow might not be the celebrities the media wanted. Not all can be former four star generals or deputy prime ministers. But they will hold office by will of the people, not the patronage of politicians or the wisdom of an appointments commission.  They will speak for the public. That’s why those commentators who recoil at any suggestion that the public might be right on crime dislike Police & Crime Commissioners so much, and it’s also why this reform will endure.

Nick Herbert is the Conservative MP for Arundel and South Downs and a former Policing Minister.

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Show comments
  • Andrew

    And since when was the BBC Trust elected? To whom is it accountable? Without excusing the crimes which led to its latest crisis, it has been quite enlightening to watch the BBC get an extremely overdue taste of its own unaccountable medicine.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    And will Mr Herbert be coming back to answer the comments or was that just a drive-by?

    Will he state whether he is happy with the turnout? Will the spect get on the right side of this one, that an election with no public discussion is no election at all, and the people have spoken, the bastards?

  • Mike Waller

    The hook line for this article is just so much phooey. Police Commissioners, which come from the US with very mixed reviews, ARE an experiment in the UK; and one of the tests of the success of that experiment is the extent to which it has caught the public’s imagination..

    I have been just been up to the polling station to cast my vote (it went to the Tory, the Labour guy still being keen to spend money as it we were £4 trillion in credit) and was told that the turnout is very poor. So it seems to me to be a simple statement of fact that so far that element of the experiment has not gone well.

    It has seemed to me that the past months have produced one police cock-up after another and that in comparison, at a mere two, the BBC is nowhere. It therefore my earnest hope that police commissioners are an outstanding success and, as a result, in future the turn-out is huge. Sadly so far not so good, and to use the mere reporting of that as a stick with which to beat the BBC suggests to me Nick Herbert has an anti-BBC agenda to which I would be viscerally opposed.


    You have to remember that James Naughtie said to a Labour minister in 2005 ‘We are going to win , aren’t we?’
    Even a senior BBC executive – the ex- DG now at NYT ! – or an internal report said BBC staff break down 11 liberal to 1 conservative. There are some exceptions – Nick Robinson was seen to do a jig when Mr Cameron’s car entered Buckingham Palace gates, but you have to be in your 50s/60s to remember people like Douglas Stewart of the World Tonight or Bill Hardcastle of the World at One – i.e. people who were patriotic and conservative without letting it affect their journalism.
    Dave did get his revenge – the BBC’s ‘delicious’ settlement – FROZEN till 2016!

  • Davidh

    Ridiculous arguments, Mr Herbert.

    First, the BBC correspondent talks about “the initial verdict”, not the final verdict, and clearly the turnout will be some kind of initial indication of success for these elections. Hard to argue that a high turnout would not be more of a success than a low one.

    Second, you cite some historically low election turnout figures in the low 20’s. Do you expect the PCC elections to even reach that level? And yes, I would question the democratic legitimacy of MEPs if only 23% of people can be bothered to vote for them, never mind the European Commission.

    Third, you can’t seriously suggest that people currently have nobody to go to on police matters. The police have community outreach officers, there are MPs, Councillors and the Police Authorities.

    Fourth, and most importantly, it’s not the police’s job to enforce local opinion. They enforce national laws as enacted by parliament and upheld by the courts. What are the police going to do if the PCC tells them to move the travellers? Go down and beat them up? Because if they didn’t move them before it’s probably because they don’t have a sound legal basis to move them. And that’s the fault of parliament, not the police.

    • Davidh

      So let’s have elections for people who can actually enact the laws we would like to be governed under and control the police who enforce those laws. Oh, right, we do that already…

  • Ian Walker

    Our beloved President Rumpy-Pumpy was elected on a turnout of 27 people out of 503.5m, which I make to be just over 0.000005 percent. Compared to that, the PCCs are belng voted in by a landslide.

  • Veep

    It’s a shame that as the MP for policing during the time PCCs were thought of and introduced, the author shows a lack of knowledge regarding their remit.

    “A few weeks ago, I attended a regular meeting between West Sussex MPs and council leaders. One of my colleagues was bemoaning the lack of effective action – including by the police – to deal with travellers invading land and making the lives of the community a misery. Even a meeting with the chief constable had produced no action. We all nodded our heads and wondered what we could do about it. And then someone said: ‘Of course, after 15th November, we’ll have someone to sort this out.’”

    It is clearly stated that PCCs will have no role in operational matters. If the Chief Constable cannot resolve this matter, a PCC cannot enforce that to change.

    It’s little wonder so many are so confused about these elections when even MPs involved cant get it right.

  • TomTom

    The BBC has the legitimacy of The Royal Charter issued as Letters Patent just as the Bank of England…..are you saying the Bank of England does not have legitimacy to comment on Government Policy ? The Bank of England is busy debasing Household Savings and is seemingly oblivious to the Citizens of the Nation. Perhaps it is The Royal Charter which makes these organisations sense a legitimacy that transcends the wishes and aspirations of the Citizens ? What do you think Nick Herbert ?

  • Steve

    As long as Herbert doesn’t question the legitimacy of union ballots because turnout goes below some arbitrary threshold.

    • TomTom

      Mayoral election Bedord 15.8% 2002

  • Mirtha Tidville

    The trouble is Mr herbert this is a half baked idea you and Dave decided to run with. if the turnout is low as expected then these PCC`s have No legitimacy whatsoever. True it doesnt help when you have thick stupid buffoons like Prescott in danger of being elected but you should have anticipated that in advance. Its a crackpot idea run by silly more no less..This is sickening to people who gave their lives to policing…I hope these elections fall flat on their arse..its where they deserve to be

  • John Guest

    Evan Davis has been banging on about this on the Today Programme at every opportunity for the last few weeks. He and many others really seem to fail to understand that if there is an election and you cannot be arsed to go out and vote then you cannot complain if the result is not to your liking. Seems quite simple to me but then I’m only an old fascist…….

    • TomTom

      7 million people without Internet access have no idea who the candidates are…….it is a bit like a Longbridge Shop Stewards Meeting held inconveniently for those wishes to go home after work……..

    • Coffeehousewall

      John Guest, and what choice do we have if we despise the whole idea as a further politicisation of the police force? How do we express our views. I am willing to come and vote for no PCC at all – but I have not been asked that question.

  • Tubby_Isaacs

    Oh for Christ’s sake. Is this all you’ve got to throw at them:

    ” Their correspondent Danny Shaw told the Today Programme this morning that ‘the initial verdict on the success of the PCC experiment will hinge to a large degree on the turnout …”

    Did you miss the word “initial” there? You’ve spend a load of money on this, and hardly anyone cares about it. Others care but you haven’t told them what the PCCs can do, and parties are so potless they haven’t told anyone either. No doubt every slight improvement, even those which are part of long term trends happening anyway, will be seized upon as evidence of the PCC’s doing well.

    Hilary Benn didn’t invent by-elections. Very occasionally turnouts are very low. All these turnouts are likely to be very low. And far lower than local council elections.

    So your candidate in Sussex will get rid of the gypsies. Or more likely move them down the road, so that they have to be moved again next week, in the absence of national politicians do anything about it. The Chief Constable has to balance this with taking men away from eg antisocial behaviour in Whitehawk or Hastings. Has she been round there seeing what people want? Or do they not count because they aren’t Tory?

    By the way, aren’t you lot the ones who bring up turnout in union votes?

  • ButcombeMan

    Self justificatory rubbish. Transparently reparing the ground for much spinning in 13 months time?

    It will be impossible to directly relate any fall in crime to PCCs. Some crime is falling already. The whole concept is ridiculous until the structure of Policing is got right. 41 Constabularies,.many of them tiny and lacking critical mass, is just a recipe for waste, duplication and inefficiency.

    It is tragic that the Tories have not grasped this.

    If there is a very low turnout, the PCCs plainly cannot be there “by the will of the people.”

    Most sensible people think politics should be kept out of local policing

    A lot of the quality standing is low and vastly inferior to the bulk of Chief Constables, the people they will have to cooperate with or even fire. The political re-treads like Prescott, are appalling.

    If Cameron has any sense he will step back from the whole thing and let people like Herbert & May take the inevitable flack.

    It will be the lowest turnout ever and a grand, splendid, waste of money..

    I advise people to spoil their papers in disgust at the waste. I do not know the name name of any of the candidates where I live. How can I possibly make an informed vote?

    Rhoda says: “It might as well be a raffle to gift placemen”

    Spot on, but place “people” Rhoda?

    Thomas Paine has it right.

    The Tories should be ashamed to have ever got involved in this.

  • anyfool

    PCCs can force the police to come down hard on unlawful activity by travellers very easily, check their vans and crush them if not insured, ditto carry stolen gear, no waste licences, insist on documentation for all cargo and fuel, then do what the Garda in Ireland did, they got up close and forced them to move which they did, straight to England to carry on their illegal ways without let or hindrance while collecting massive social security checks for disability and family allowance,

  • kwestion.all

    No, the real problem is that the PCC is just another management layer on top of the police in the same way that the NHS had another management layer imposed on them. Why can’t we just let the guys on the ground get on and do their job?

    • eeore

      Probably because the police on the ground don’t do a very good job, and the senior officers have no incentive to change.

      • kwestion.all

        The cutbacks forced on the police ain’t gonna help, anymore than a useless PCC.

        • eeore

          That remains to be seen.

    • TomTom

      Untrue. It is to REPLACE the sinecured position of Unelected Police Authority q.v. Victorians had a “Watch Committee” which the 1964 Police Act changed to Police Authorities nominated by political parties

      • kwestion.all

        The public is clearly unimpressed by that reasoning, judging by the voting turnout. Also given the cuts being forced on the police, what can a £100,000 per year PCC tell the police what they should do, given the reduction in their manpower?

  • JohnnyDuke

    Well Nick, may I call you Nick? … As you may be aware in a free society with the freedom of speech and expression as outlined by the much maligned Human Rights Act 1998… you know the one that keeps your erstwhile leader’s wife in pennies … the BBC, it’s employees along with any other organisation and it’s members can say what it pleases so long as it does not breach any laws on incitement … but then you knew that didn’t you?

    Holding forth on the lunacy that Police Crime Commissioners represent is very small potatoes in comparison to for more pressing matters facing the Nation.

    That people didn’t have anyone to go to must be the most ridiculous excuse I have heard. There are, in no particular order, the following august members of the paid community; The local Councillor, Local Police Chief, Local Chief Constable, Police Authority …even (gasp) MEMBER of PARLIAMENT. Are you seriously suggesting that none of these people could have taken the problem on board? because if you are, then they are clearly superfluous to requirement and should be got rid of along with their very expensive remuneration packages

    Be interested to hear your thoughts on the matter …. We could start with why the omnipotent Commissioner will require a committee / panel to oversee his or her work? When the existing Police Authority, who I suspect will be ‘the panel’ is already in place.

    • perdix

      I frankly don’t know the facts but have a suspicion that the oversight panel for PCCs was instigated by the LibDems as part of their agreement to the legislation. Must have something for local councillors to do? Special allowances anyone?

  • Colonel Mustard

    Perhaps you could raise this in Parliament, Mr Herbert, since the very obvious bias against the coalition seems to be ignored in that place and recent events suggest that the political activities of the unelected BBC in influencing public opinion might warrant a little more scrutiny from our elected representatives?

    • Tubby_Isaacs

      So tell me about 2 members of the Coalition being on Question Time every week.

      • Colonel Mustard

        I wouldn’t worry about that Tubby, they are always outnumbered by the screaming socialist audience full of Labour and union activists, the token lefty luvvie/comedian/writer and Labour shill on the panel, the Labour representative and depending on the location some bolshy Scots, Welsh or Irish nationalist.

  • Nadir Doris

    Turnout is not fundamental to legitimacy provided all electors have the opportunity to vote. Democracy hinges not on election but on rejection. What creates legitimacy is the ability to use future elections to kick out a current incumbent.

    • TomTom

      So what is the threshold in Referenda then ? Wales and Scotland 1979 had a 40% threshold

    • Coffeehousewall

      Turnout is fundamental if the electorate is given no opportunity to reject a proposal. On your logic, if we were presented with a ballot asking for a choice for ‘Dictator of Greate Britain’ then whoever won would be democratically elected even if no-one wanted a ‘Dictator of Great Britain’.

  • Thomas Paine

    Why on earth shouldn’t they? The whole crazy project runs counter to common sense which is getting rid of 40-odd police forces and replacing them with (at most) less than 10. This would release massive cost savings in administration and shared serivices, put more police out there on the streets and deliver much-needed modernsiation to how police forces work.

    But no, we get some stupid imported American idea, straight from Steve Hilton’s cross-legged think-fests.

    The BBC have every right to question this ridiculous waste of money.

    • Tubby_Isaacs

      Well said.

      It would have been worthwhile aligning police boundaries with local government ones’ Elected representatives would then have input across the board, and take responsibility. My council ran some summer activities which seem to have improved misbehaviour/crime in the summer holiday.

      A PCC commissioner has no power to do that. You’d just get him saying it was the council’s fault and the council saying it was his fault.

      • TomTom

        How would you do that ? West Yorkshire has one of the biggest forces but includes two of the largest cities in England – Bradford and Leeds whose population exceeds that of North Yorkshire – yet neither city has a police force…….just what boundaries do you propose to align on – Bradford ? Leeds ? Castleford ? Wakefield ? Why did the Conservatives create Regional Police Forces in 1974 and now propose to merge West Yorkshire with North Yorkshire and South Yorkshire and Humberside ?

    • TomTom

      The stupid American idea does not involve a Central Police Force as in the UK but local Sheriffs and control at City, County, State level unlike the UK with its Home Office control and ACPO supervision. The best model on your proposal would be to create a Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RSHA) with someone like Reinhard Heydrich controlling MI5, Special Branch, Police Forces, CID, NCIS as one national organisation……….it is clear the Nazis were Post-Modern

      • Colonel Mustard

        Agreed. The main factor in the decline of the police has been centralised direction and lobbying, both police and political.

  • Gerry Boy

    What a wearisome article, special pleading from Nick Herbert and BBC bashing – all in one article.

    And it could be summarised in one line: Herbert trying to argue that turnout does not matter; well it does; just because Parliament decrees something doesnt give it popular legitimacy; get into the 20th century.

    The UK Parliament and its political classes stand tarnished and corrupted; the only real legitimacy is the popular will; something Tory ministers, politicians, the Beeb and other elites would do well to remember!

  • Rhoda Klapp

    I feel able and qualified to criticise the election of police commisioners because no proper election is taking place. Not even so much as a peep from any candidate, no discussion means no democracy. It might as well be a raffle to gift placemen.

    So the BBC can say it too, on account of it being true and the BBC also being qualified to ask that sort of question, as the debating forum of the nation. It’s a pity they don’t usually do their job right, but in this case they are spot on.

    • telemachus

      While we are on elections
      Why is there no feature on the selection of the dynamic Sarah Champion

      • Dicky14

        Whose only ability is that she’s not a moslem man who could be tarnished as having links to the ongoing criminal investigations into kiddy fiddling in the borough. That the local association walked out en masse due to an edict from Harman’s office shows how Labour only exists for the leadership.

      • Telemachus the thickus dickus

        Maybe because no one is interested!

    • dalai guevara

      Absolutely concur – this election is a total soviet-style-EUSSR-socialist-Brussels commission-taxpayers’-money-sponging-failed-politicians-cum-apparatchik-type farce. It was difficult but we have beaten Strasbourg and Brussels to it.

    • Peter Martin

      ‘Not even so much as a peep from any candidate, no discussion means no democracy. It might as well be a raffle to gift placemen.’

      Great summary. It’s tonight right? I have heard next to zero, and what I have offers me 3 duffers seeking a nice little earner based on saying ‘I will serve you’.

      As I am in West Mercia, guessing the Labour guy will be a shoo-in, the BBC having facilitated Ed Miliband ‘forgetting’ the rules (a common trait once within Aunty’s selective Alzheimer’s palaces of fun). Again.

  • Anon

    Does your colleague think that the only reason there has been no action regarding travellers is because the polic don’t realise there is a problem, or because they can’t be arsed? I suggest that the lack of action is because they can do bugger all about it. Christ, on one hand we say that the police are a bunch of racist thugs who want to beat up everyone, the next the are castigated for sticking within a legal framework that by and large shoppes them from dealing with community issues like this. What do you suggest they will do when the pcc tells them to deal with it? Evict them? Arrest them all? Paying particular attention to them would be illegal, and the cops would probaby be shot or beaten to a pulp.

  • justathought

    The BBC was created as a tool of propaganda during the cold war. Unfortunately then they never anticipated the fall of the soviet union. If they had they would have inserted a sunset clause.

    The BBC news is doing terrible damage to our democracy and there must now be a total rethink on its purpose. Also it is undemocratic that we are forced to pay for this propaganda.

    I am in favor of PCC’s as we get to vote on someone and can hold them accountable.

    • eeore

      For all my cynicism of the candidates on offer, I have to agree with you with regard to accountability. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

    • TomTom

      The BBC was made a tool of propaganda in 1926 when Winsrtomn cHurchill used it as Chancellor of The Exchequer during The General Strike which is why it was nationalised by the Baldwin Government (Conservative)

  • 2trueblue

    Why are you surprised? Where did you get the idea that the BBC has a balanced view on anything political? They are not going to clean up their act, we will get fed their biased views until we clean it all out. Getting rid of Patten would be a start.

    • dorothy wilson

      Cutting the BBC’s budget by around 50% would be a useful next step.

      • 2trueblue

        Perfect. And all those with strong political connections need not apply for any posts.

    • telemachus

      There are few broadcasters as balanced as the Beeb
      Just look at the tripe that comes out of Fox

      • Telemachus the stupid

        Fox is a commercial entity that chooses its target audience. The BBC is a public funded body. They aren’t the same thing.

      • 2trueblue

        I pay for the BBC so am interested in the quality here, and it falls far shoirt of being balanced. Also it is over here and relevant.

        • telemachus

          OK try Channel
          Have you looked at its appalling news

          • Telemachus thickus dickus

            Appalling in your opinion, but bread and butter to others. Not everyone has the same view as you. The world would be a terrible place if we shared the same opinion!

  • the viceroy’s gin

    “Who are the BBC to question the legitimacy of Police & Crime Commissioners?”


    Who are they? They’re the group you and your like send bales of cash to and give perpetual succor.

    Have you any other questions?

    • telemachus

      Dear Gin
      Instead of pouring bile contemplate the picture
      How much better off were we under the deputy PM pictured above compared to the slimy deputy PM we have now?

      • Telemachus the Teletubby

        He was better off while he was shagging his secretary whilst on the public payroll., with the office door open. Politics is better off without him. A self made man made solely from riding the gravy train.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Well at least he was courteous enough to leave the door open. Perhaps the BBC could put that up on screen for our viewing pleasure, sort of a reality Westminster show.

          On 7 May 2006, The Sunday Times quoted Linda McDougall, wife of Austin Mitchell, as saying that in 1978 Prescott had pushed her “quite forcefully” against a wall and put his hand up her skirt as she opened the door for him to a meeting in her own house just after her husband became an MP; Prescott had not met McDougall before.

          He gained a reputation in the British press for confused speech, mangled syntax and poor grammar. The Guardian columnist Simon Hoggart once commented: “Every time Prescott opens his mouth, it’s like someone has flipped open his head and stuck in an egg whisk.”

          • telemachus

            Yes but he was not the slimy creep we have as deputy PM now

            • Teletubby Telemachus

              In your opinion, but not shared by others.

  • Adrian Drummond

    This is hardly the first time that the BBC is using its inherent power to frame a political argument.

    • telemachus

      Folk are obsessed with doing down the Beeb
      My only current grouse with them is that they are not sticking it in to the useless coalition more

      • HooksLaw

        As you say….

        • telemachus

          You are learning son

          • Hexhamgeezer


            • telemachus

              truth is truth

      • Telemachus the Teletubby

        My only grouse is that they are not sticking it to the opposition more!

    • Andy

      This the same BBC that maliciously defamed an entirely innocent man just recently ? Thought so.

    • Dimoto

      The BBC has launched the “fight back” today, filling the airwaves with sanctimonious stuff about what a great job they have done “highlighting child abuse” and how Savilegate and McAlpinegate were nothing at all to do with them..

      Patten woke with a start, harumphed a bit about “a root ‘n branch restructuring” (sic), but is already nodding off again.

      Meanwhile the serenissima BBC, convinced of it’s own infallibility and omnipotence sails on into the future, haughtily ignoring climatechangegate.

      Don’t expect the government to raise a finger.

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