Coffee House

Why I regret voting for the Bill that introduced PCCs

19 November 2012

So much has been written about the lead up to, and the fall-out from, last week’s elections for Police and Crime Commissioners that it seems almost futile to try to add anything.

As the paltry turn-out became obvious – formally and reportedly as it was obvious to anyone in touch with a polling station on the day – and the election of a myriad of quixotic independent candidates apparent, I tweeted that I thought we may regret introducing PCCs and that I regretted voting for the Bill which made them a reality.

That was borne out of frustration that we really didn’t need to end up where we did last Friday. It was predicted and therefore avoidable.

Take the issue of timing. Britain does not have a recent tradition of going to the polls in November. Whilst it was not uncommon in the 19th century, with November elections in 1806, 1812, 1837 and 1852, there were only two occasions of November voting in the 20th century – the most recent being 1935. Anyone eligible to have voted in November before last Thursday would be a minimum of 98 today.

So why did we end up with a stand-alone election with the additional cost when it could easily have been in May?


Received wisdom suggests that Nick Clegg did not want the local elections to be dominated by debate about crime and law and order. Given that Liberal Democrats are passionate advocates of the systems that seek to give votes to prisoners and prevent us deporting the likes of Abu Hamza that is a reasonable worry. But was it right to banish  the elections for the post that sits at the heart of the Prime Minister’s law and order reform to the dark days of November so that Mr Clegg would not have to account for his principles in the light evenings of May? I suspect most Conservatives are clear in their answer to that one.

Then we turn to the public information campaign. Or rather the risible lack of one. Why was the decision taken not to afford candidates the same rights as those standing for the House of Commons or even the European Parliaments and allow them a free Royal Mail delivery to every voter to set out their stall?

The idea of saving money simply doesn’t hold water here. If we were to sanction spending of close to £100 million to have a separate national poll to save Mr Clegg’s blushes it seems odd not to go the whole way and run it as other elections are run. That indeed was what the Electoral Commission were advocating. Given that politicians are ordinarily falling over themselves in the rush to implement the recommendations of such ‘independent’ bodies it seems bizarre not to have done so on this occasion. And where were our senior political figures to make the case for these vital elections, whose winners will now have powerful roles in the allocation of precious police resources?

I cannot recall that the PCC elections or the concept of the role even made it into the conference speeches of either the Leader of the Opposition or Prime Minister, despite the latter having been the biggest cheerleader for their introduction.

What we ended up with was a toxic mix of low voter awareness about the role, the absence of an active public information campaign, near silence from politicians with the voice to command attention promoting the role and polling day moved to a time of year when Britain doesn’t have a tradition of voting and when it gets dark at 4pm.

In many respects, we got the turnout we deserved.

I sincerely hope the Prime Minister is right and that, the next time these positions are up for election, the turnout will be much higher than the historic low we saw last Thursday. At the same time, I trust that lessons are being learned so that last week’s farce is not repeated.

Conor Burns is the Conservative MP for the Bournemouth.

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  • Jon

    It was not about timing. It’s about a sullen electorate that distrusts their politicos.

  • dave244

    Once again the arrogance of the westminster village is showing through
    The Government lay the blame at the foot of the lack of media coverage
    Labour lay the blame at the foot of the Government or the fact it was in November or the lack of a mail shot and yes to a point your right and certainly none of this helps
    But one one will look at the real reason and that is that not many people actually trust politicians just look at how many independents won and now when people do vote they tend to vote as they have always voted if they can be bother to vote at all becuse as many people will tell you “it doesn’t matter who you vote for their all the same they always tell lies (Nick Clegg he promise a new type of politician on who word we could trust )
    You only have to look at the expenses scandal to see how far apart mps really are from the voter in the street when it blew up in their faces most of them said “it’s ok i have paid it all back and it was just bookkeeping errors anyway and we are sorry” and then a few sacrificial lambs were thrown in to the courts in the hope that that would keep everyone happy but no big fish it has to be said
    So don’t bury your heads in the sand or we will end up with a very extreme party in Government because they will tell people what they want hear and people will think what the hell all the others lie anyway so let’s give them a go

  • roger

    I liked the photo that is entitled ‘on your bike fatso’.

  • sir_graphus

    Tell me a policy where Nick Clegg hasn’t stuck his oar in and made it worse.

  • mikewaller

    Yesterday’s police scandal was the removal of an entire squad which stayed in the office playing cards rather than going out on duty; today’s scandal is an attempt by the Met to suppress news of the big payouts it is having to make to women who had sex and, in some cases, children with undercover policemen; before that it was letting a man die in a cell somewhere in the North East, then it was tazering a blind man, then there were the Hillsborough revelations and the extreme childishness over “Plebgate”; before that the killing of the news-vendor etc etc etc.

    Does this not suggest that, to all but the most purblind, something needs to be done about the police? So instead of dear old Conor Burns whining “‘Onest guv, it was them others”, would it not be a very good idea if all Tories threw their weight behind those Tories who did get in to make absolutely sure that in their areas at least, the damned thing works?

  • Ian Walker

    Dear Mr Burns, you say that you regret the introduction of PCCs, but then you fail to identify the source of the regret. The phrase “myriad of quixotic independent candidates” suggests that you were hoping for a bunch of fourth-rate party drones to slavishly implement policy on the sly; in this case I am sincerely glad that the electorate had the good sense to scupper you.

    However you also make vague noises about the turnout for the elections, so perhaps that is what you regret? In which case no doubt you’ll be ignoring any contributions from the new member for Manchester Central, elected to the House on a paltry turnout of just over 18%.

    There is an old business maxim that begins ‘turnover is vanity’ – I suspect that turnout is rather the same thing for politicians – you rather vainly imagine yourselves standing in front of teeming throngs of adoring voters hanging on your every word. Instead of whingeing about apathy, why don’t you try having some policies that are actually relevant to real people, rather than lurching from navel-gazing focus groups to appeasing tabloid headlines?

    The simple fact is that you don’t give a damn about the voters. So why should they give one about you?

  • Mirtha Tidville

    Lets just hope that these are the first and the last elections ever for this Mickey Mouse post

  • Cogito Ergosum

    The role of a Police Commissioner is to ensure the public interest is considered alongside financial, operational, and professional interests. There are bound to be disagreements about what is the public interest, and disagreements are what politics is about.

    So even a PC who begins as an independent will end up taking political decisions – and probably making a worse job of that than experienced politicians. I am tired of reading sentimental tirades against politicians.

    • Colonel Mustard

      I think experienced politicians rather than politicians with experience are the problem. But your view of their superiority over ordinary people speaks volumes about the current relationship between those who govern and the governed.

      • Cogito Ergosum

        I would expect that politicians, even those I disagree with, would on average take better decisions on political matters than somebody chosen at random. That does not make them superior. For example, I can write better computer programs than almost any of them.

        Having written that, I half expect you to cite the Lib Dems against my argument.

        • Colonel Mustard

          Well don’t hold your breath while you are “half expecting”. Besides, you more or less cited it for me. Stupid decisions by politicians are not limited to specific parties and on average, given the last 70 odd years, I’d say they far outweigh the better ones.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    It is no use writing imprecations to Mr Burns here. He ain’t coming back to read them or reply.

    I once asked Diane Abbott right here about whether she had read the Lisbon Treaty. No reply yet, even though she had been a commenter up to that point.

    • HellforLeather

      Ah. Same with the former Labour minister for Europe, Caroline whatever.

      Despite eventually complaining about being enlisted as female “window-dressing” for government, she conceded she’d not bothered to read the Lisbon Treaty

  • Bill Brinsmead

    Proposals for elected Police & Crime Commissioners – and House of Lords reform – were in the manifesto on which Conor Burns fought the 2010 election.
    As a conservative activist I know that I will have to promote and defend all aspects of agreed Party policy including those I disagree with. Its part of deal when you join as is the opportunity to try and influence the development of policy. This should also apply to MPs.
    Yes, we the voters rejected some well known or would be politicians in favour of independents. But don’t blame us. Many County Associations selected successful candidates who met the person spec for the job – Cheshire & Cumbria for example – when they didn’t, as with Michael Mates in Hampshire, the candidates were rejected.

  • In2minds

    Don’t blame Clegg Cameron should have overruled him, just to remind you Cameron is PM and Clegg is his deputy. As for “quixotic independent candidates” you might be happy with the LibLabCon but s lot of us are not

  • eeore

    So how many people had a say in police policy before these elections?

    • Colonel Mustard

      That’s not the point. The supposed purpose of this idea was to give more people a say in how their local policing was prioritised not give political parties power over it. Personally I would have disqualified members of political parties from standing.

  • Simon

    Many people may well believe that PCCs should not be political posts, which might be why so many independents (quixotic or not) were elected.
    I am not sure whether it lasted into subsequent elections, but for the first London Mayoral election a single booklet was issued to every household, containing the list of candidates, each candidate’s election address and the Elctoral Commission explanation of how the ballot operated. Very convenient and, presumably, economical. Why not do it that way for all elections?

  • Cassandra1963

    Dear Conor,

    You voted for something without considering the consequences or whether it was appropriate? You voted the way your party required, whats new? You supposedly intelligent MPs voted through the climate change act without even reading it or considering the gigantic cost of it or how it would wreck UK industry. You vote with the mob because that is what you MPs do now, sceptical caution or rational pause to consider the ramifications of what you vote for is so old fashioned and out of date.

    Would it be too much effort to actually read the fine print of the legislation you vote on? How about standing up to the whips and voting according to your conscience or even God forbid representing the majority of your constituents. No, the greasy pole punishes independents, you nod through damaging legislation without regard, you ignore the wishes of even your own base support let alone the nation. Did you vote for the Lisbon treaty? If you did, did you bother to read it first or did you just ask the whip instead. If enough of you stood together and put the electorate first instead of you narrow party demands then Parliament would once again become a force for good.

    Almost none of you MPs have the testicular fortitude to stand up against your party, you act like sheep, have the intellect of a sheep and the independence of a flock of sheep. Take a stand on the issues you believe in and fight for them, represent the wishes of the electorate or at least take them into consideration, tell the whips in no uncertain terms to piss off,before you vote on legislation take the time to read up on it and what it will mean in practice, you lot get paid enough. Until you MPs stop acting like a 1970s BL strike meeting and start acting like elected representatives of a free sovereign nation our country will continue its slide into oblivion.

    • Noa

      Hear hear.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Wonderfully articulated and absolutely true.

    • mikewaller

      I could not disagree more. The real problem with modern society in general and the latest generation of parliamentarians in particular is the proportion of narcissists has risen dramatically. In a pluralistic society such as ours, party politics is the only viable option if you don’t want governments which change three times a day; And party politics means taking the rough with the smooth. For better or for worse, we now have Police Commissioners, so Conor Burns job is to do what ever he can to make them successful. Playing to a gallery of Spectator readers simply does not cut the mustard.

    • HellforLeather

      “Until you MPs stop acting like a 1970s BL strike meeting and start
      acting like elected representatives of a free sovereign nation our
      country will continue its slide into oblivion.”

      Wonderful synopsis. Well done.

  • Colonel Mustard

    I chatted to a 92 year old lady last week who had decided not to vote and was quick to voice her concerns about the political parties jumping on another power bandwagon. She had thought the role was supposed to represent local peoples needs not political parties agendas.

    • HooksLaw

      Power bandwagon.
      So the majority of the membership of previous police authorities, namely appointed councillors (thats politicians to you and me), were not on a power bandwagon?
      One thing is for sure they were not known to or by anybody and were not accountable.

      What weird bigotry is it that allows the Wild West to have more accountable law enforcement that good ‘ol England?
      And of course good old LA

      We need more elections not less – its strange to see the latest howling at the moon coming from the deranged UKIP tendency who regularly decry the undemocratic EU.

      • Colonel Mustard

        “So the majority of the membership of previous police authorities, namely appointed councillors (thats politicians to you and me), were not on a power bandwagon?”

        Yes. But now the bandwagon is one person rather than several. Hardly an improvement.

        And the US Sheriff system is different as it involves the election of professional police officers or of citizens prepared to lead police operations in uniform and putting their money where their mouth is.

        This was a good idea in theory but very badly realised and implemented.

  • Mike Sugar

    The glaring omission from this analysis is the fact that very many people disagree that PCCs are necessary, and/or they should not be political posts. Many social media posts (blogs, tweets) state categorically that the authors elected to stay away or spoil their papers in protest. The only reason that I voted was that we had a very strong independent candidate. Had my choice been limited to political parties I would, for the first time in my life, not have voted at all.

    • ButcombeMan

      Absolutely correct. An astonishing ommission.

      The very concept of reinforcing a 19th century model of Shire Policing was fundamentally wrong. Policing needs major reform to cope with new forms of crime and high mobility of populations.

      Policing needs major reform to cope with too many ranks, lack of a true professional CID cadre (many senior Officers do no more than tick the CID “box” during a rapid promotion scheme).

      Policing needs major reform of pay and conditions of service (too much reliance on overtime for what should be a 24 by 7 by 365 operation).

      Policing needs to stop leakage of fundamentally fit and vastly experienced Officers after 30 years service.

      Policing needs to stop “double dipping”, that is retirement then immediate re-employment.

      £100 million would have been better spent on fundamental reform rather than entrenching the current model.

      The vast numbers of spoilt papers shows the public are rather more wise than our legislators. (note the WAY many papers were spoiled)

      The public smelled a rat. Tthey were right to.

      Yet another hopeless error of judgement by Cameron.

      • Colonel Mustard

        I completely disagree with your first suggestion. Proper “shire policing” is exactly what is required and less centralisation rather than more. Policing must be integral to local communities not deployed centrally. The crime vexing most local communities is neither new nor high mobility. It is just street crime, vandalism, and anti-social behaviour which are generally not tackled or not tackled well, whilst senior police staff officers waffle on about organised crime and all the high-profile political stuff. The broader geographically the command organisational structure has to become the less it can focus incisively on local tactical issues and the greater the tendency to create enormous staff structures of “monitoring” and internal non-jobs and box ticking. This leads in turn to the “sharp end” part of the structure spending more time reporting upwards than policing the streets. We need the pyramids the right way up not a larger pyramid the wrong way up. The essentials of good uniformed policing at street level have never changed. Currently too much of the service is response driven rather than watch and ward within communities which was the very basis upon which policing developed. There have been too many red herrings driving forces to create specialist functions and teams to pander to political agendas and lobby groups. Police should deal with crime even-handledly whether it is directed against ethnic minorities or gays and in whatever form it takes.

        As to your second suggestion there might be too many senior and management ranks but there are not enough NCO ranks for deployed duties. Compare and contrast to successful military structures. The British police are generally poorly trained, ill-disciplined and badly led. I would like to see sound, smart Senior Police Constables on the beat to impart experience and restore confidence, given back the constable’s discretion and not restricted by tick boxes and “computer says arrest” mentality. There needs to be a structure that allows Sergeants to progress between that rank and Inspector, so that senior NCOs can motivate other NCOs collectively and advise their Inspectors, so that they can proudly wear the distinctions of their length of service, experience and commendations on their uniforms. I envisage these new ranks to exploit the value of those you say are being “leaked” after 30 years service. Might sound old fashioned but it needs to be.

        The rest I can concur with, more or less.

        • ButcombeMan

          Yiou are wrong, the Shire policing model was built on the concept that miscreants were based in the next village or at most a nearby market town. It is an atavistic throwback to a far off age of village bobbies, local Police houses & cuffs round the ear for badly behaved youths.

          It was an era when the Police might have had bikes but many of the populace did not. A time of single Officer arrests and minimal paperwork to get local villains in front of a well known local magistrate.

          The appropriate model now is the empowered Divisonal Commander, flexibly using his allocated resources to solve local policing difficulties yet able to call on larger detective pools,, Officer numbers & specialist staff when needed. (eg to deal with rape).

          Your idea does not work with a highly mobile population. A criminal now might abscond “home” to his village in rural LIthuania or Poland.

          Many small Shire forces now lack the critical mass to do anything very well. The relationship of “back office” overheads to front line troops is tilted in the wrong direction.

          The current system creates lots of senior jobs, multiplied by the number of Constabularies, e.g Two heads of CID in Hampshire & Dorset? Two Chief Constables? Two HQ buildings? Two Chief Constable’s cars (and drvers!) , Two Heads of HR.

          Continued Page 94
          ( I agree with some of what you say about experienced NCOs by the way)

          • Colonel Mustard

            Your reply reveals the “response” rather than “watch and ward” mentality that influences too much of modern policing in Britain. Also your vision of my vision is exaggerated and not quite what I had in mind! When properly implemented my vision works perfectly well in environments far more intensive, population dense and mobile than your modern “Shire” and has been proven to do so in hard practice. The problem is that British policemen prefer teaching failed methodologies rather than learning successful ones!

            • ButcombeMan

              No, I am absolutely against Policing JUST being a response service, the Divisional resource should be primarily a preventive service BUT, Constabularies MUST HAVE an appropriate response service to all sorts of crime and issues. That means having a suitable critical mass.

              I have not exaggerated your vision, I have described the origins of of it. There may not be that much between us. Maybe you just had not thought about your vision very much. Exactly what I accuse the Tories of doing in relation to PCCs. They were planted with a silly idea and ran with it, they did not see the big picture.

              I know how the small Constabularies work in practice. The UK Shire model at the moment works fine for those in it, especially those climbing the greasy pole, it does not work for customers.

              I note Scotland is following my plan, I note Sir Hugh Orde (ACPO) agrees with me , I note most of honest Chief Constables, past & present, agree with me.

              There has been something wrong as well with ACPO-another debate.

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