Why the argument over the politicisation of policing won't determine who becomes the Kent police commissioner

Why the argument over the politicisation of policing won't determine who becomes the Kent police commissioner

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, November 7 2012

It would be overstating matters to say that there has been a sudden rush of interest in the race to become Kent's first-directly elected police commissioner. I certainly don't detect any Obama type bounce.

Voters will go to the polls next Thursday and there remains a fear the turnout will be dismal - possibly as low as 15%.

That is not to say people are uninterested in the issue of crime and policing.

It is one of the ironies of the government's flagship reform that public apathy towards a new generation of elected police chiefs is in direct contrast to polling which consistently makes crime - and fear of crime - a major pre-occpuation of voters.

The problem with the election is that when you examine the manifestos and policy pledges of the six candidates standing, there isn't an awful lot that separates them.

They all believe in giving greater support to victims. All - to varying degrees - oppose creeping privatisation. All want to give the criminal fraternity a harder time; all believe in the importance of visible policing; they all want to improve social cohesion. And so on.

It's as bland a set of commitments as the bowls of rice contestants in "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here!" face over the coming weeks.

The candidates were given a chance to air their views and proposals at a hustings meeting at the University of Kent's Medway campus last night.

During the evening, someone tweeted: "I promise to prioritorise visible policing and get tough on crime. Not just tough, zero tolerance tough...have I won yet?"

Sarcastic, yes but they have a point.

The specific policy pledges, such as they are, have often been eclipsed by soundbite politics in which, it seems to me, the candidates have been more inclined to talk in generalities about their aims and aspirations and have been a little fearful of being too specific.

Partly, this is a reflection of the fact that the commissioner has a strategic rather than operational role and candidates are wary of stepping into territory where they might be regarded as interfering in day-to-day policing.

While they understand this, in general the public don't - or are at least confused.

At the hustings meeting, there was a telling moment when the candidates were asked to identify a single strategy proposal for bringing down crime that did not involve the words "zero tolerance". The answers were as woolly as a flock of Romney Marsh sheep.

Which brings me to the issue that has set a few sparks flying - the debate about the danger of policing becoming politicised by commissioners.

Actually, the argument has been about the party politicisation of policing, which is not exactly the same thing. Even independent candidates will become - if they win - "political" figures, albeit under a non-party political banner.

Some people are genuinely concerned about this and contend that it will be the issue that determines the outcome.

There's an instinctive unease among many about the idea of police control being vested in a politician. (It reminds me of the quote about education being too important to allow politicians to be involved).

Ann Barnes, who is one of the leading independent candidates, has made the issue the centrepiece of her campaign.

The campaign literature of Dai Liyanage, another independent, is headed "Not Just Another Political Puppet."

But is this an issue which has the resonance on the doorstep some think it has?

At the hustings meeting, it was striking that the audience didn't actually seem to care terribly much about the candidates' political colours.

The questions they asked were not party political ones but focused on what would be done, for example, to tackle anti-social behaviour or drug dealing.

In other words, who would do the best job to make our towns and villages safe?

And that, it seems to me, is what the election should ultimately be about.

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ONE of the complaints made about the election is that not enough has been done to publicise it. Public disengagement has certainly been an issue.

So, why has the Police Area Returning Officer Nadeem Aziz decreed that the media are to be banned from using social media like Twitter and Facebook to report from the election count at Dover town hall?

To call it bizarre is an under-statement and there are questions about whether it as any legal force, especially when these are the ways in which many people now expect to get news.

We are challenging the ban and so too are some of the candidates and their agents. Let's hope commonsense prevails.

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The six candidates standing in the election have, as a result of a challenge by a member of the audience at the hustings meeting, agreed to declare the donations and expenses of their campaign's before polling day. (Electoral law means they don't have to until after the election)

We'll be publishing all these when we get them all.

 

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Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis

News, views, gossip and analysis on Kent's political scene, from County Hall to Westminster.

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