A confession: I’m a Lib Dem and I support elected police commissioners

Here’s the thing: I don’t have a problem with elected police commissioners. I know they were a Tory manifesto idea and that the Lib Dems are opposed to them (while reluctantly agreeing to vote for them as part of the Coalition Agreement). But I’m just fine with them. My support for directly elected police commissioners is paralleled by my support for directly elected mayors:

For too long, city council politics have been in the hands of amateur part-time leaders: some have been very good, some not so good. But all have been ham-strung by a political system that grants them responsibility without power, allows them to be in office but not in government.

I understand and respect those who oppose the idea and the principle of commissioners, those who cleave to the collectivity of committees known as local police authorities. But it’s an argument that all too often spills over into that least attractive mindset: the elitist liberal fearful of too much democracy.

Many liberals are openly fearful of a right-wing hang-em-and-flog-em nut-job winning power. I get the concern. Come to that, I’m pretty appalled by the idea of Lord Prescott’s return to public life in Humberside. But you know what? That’s democracy for you. Campaign in favour of what you want and against what you don’t want. Despair of the electorate’s judgement. But respect the voters’ right to make the wrong decision.

There are legitimate concerns that vesting a commissioner’s power in just one person might lead to corruption or limit debate. Such concerns will, I believe, be outweighed by the vast scrutiny and direct, personal accountability that will come with these powers. You can bet their every move will be watched with greater care than is currently focused on the authorities they’re replacing. Certainly I hope the new system will put a stop to the tendency for committees to be captured by chief constables, for there to be a greater equality in the power dynamic at the top of the force between the professionals and the people’s representatives.

There is one argument with which I have no truck: the mealy-mouthed complaint that elected police commissioners will ‘politicise’ the police. What is policing if not political? Was ‘kettling’ peaceful G20 protesters a non-political act? Was the Hillsborough cover-up something politicians should have ignored?

Besides, if policing should truly be non-political, why do those who oppose the new system stick up for local police authorities which have a majority of elected councillors? I have the suspicion that the worry of ‘politicisation’ is really code for ‘we’d prefer the public not to be too involved in how they’re policed’.

I remain hopeful that elected police commissioners will, probably not to begin with but in time, lead to better policing. Why do I believe that? Because I’m a democrat who believes that greater transparency and clearer accountability improves decision-making.

For too long, the liberal approach to crime — to have a tough but fair system which makes offenders face up to the consequences of their crimes, punishes them proportionately, and aims for their full rehabilitation into society — has been easily, cheaply derided by our opponents as ‘soft on crime’ when it is anything but. As The Economist found on a recent visit to Jersey, an island which already has elected police chiefs and isn’t usually regarded as a bastion of liberalism:

There is a great emphasis on keeping offenders, especially young offenders, out of the criminal justice system, and avoiding anything that looks like public humiliation. Young tearaways and petty offenders will be sent to perform community service, but there is no question of putting them in bright yellow waistcoats emblazoned with the word “offender”. All Parish Hall Enquiries are confidential. Islanders use the word “paternalist”, a lot, to describe their approach to justice. Those who offend repeatedly will face tough justice in the end, the home affairs minister, Senator Ian Le Marquand, told me: “but we like to take our time getting there.” So is justice tough or soft on Jersey? Locals call the distinction rather empty. What counts to them is trying to get justice right.

Will that approach find echoes across the country after 15th November? I may be a liberal, but I’m not that much of an optimist.

However, elected police commissioners who want to be re-elected will need to show that their approach works, that they can actually cut crime, working with the police, working with the communities. I have enough confidence in a liberal, evidence-based, humane approach to justice to believe that even those elected police commissioners who preach lock-em-up-fire-and-brimstone will repent when they realise that prevention and rehabilitation are the best ways to crack crime.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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57 Comments

  • I am not sure that I agree with you! Jersey is not exactly a good example of effective policing over the years (alleged corruption/abuse etc). And “paternalistic” just about sums it up!

  • Foregone Conclusion 22nd Oct '12 - 9:45pm

    Jersey is a terrible example to be copying, to be honest.

    I suppose that I distrust giving power to one man (and it will more likely than not be a man) to run the police. The same goes for elected mayors.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 22nd Oct '12 - 9:55pm

    Democracy also includes the right not to vote. I shall be exercising that right and I expect, for once, to be part of the majority

  • Simon Titley 22nd Oct '12 - 11:18pm

    Stephen Tall’s support for PCCs and directly-elected mayors suggests he subscribes to the ‘strong man’ theory of politics. All those councils, committees and teams are so messy, aren’t they?

    Meanwhile, those who think independent candidates are the answer might care to look at the PCC contest in Lincolnshire, where one so-called ‘independent’ candidate turns out to have had some very dubious backers:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lincolnshire-20025046

  • That’s democracy for you. Campaign in favour of what you want and against what you don’t want. Despair of the electorate’s judgement. But respect the voters’ right to make the wrong decision.

    Yeeees, but that’s what general elections are for. I respect the voters’ right to choose a hang-em-and-flog-em approach if they want (however stupid and counterproductive it is!) but that is emphatically a choice to be made at the level of national government. Surely even the most localist Lib Dem wouldn’t want a criminal treated more harshly in Devon than in Islington?

    Nor is that what is being proposed with the PCCs, unless I’ve completely misunderstood it – they will be in charge of setting “strategic priorities”, i.e. whether to focus more budget and resources on anti-social behaviour than on burglary etc. So talking about giving voters a say in how liberal or otherwise to be with criminals is irrelevant – that’s not what the PCCs are going to be about (and anyway voters already have a say in law’n’order policy when they choose an MP).

    This policy sounds like a recipe for PCCs ordering police to spend the majority of their time tackling low-level anti-social behaviour and then trying to blame the police when the resources diverted from more serious crime lead to a rise in muggings and break-ins. Or vice versa. Y’know – much like Westminster politicians do with the civil service.

  • Christopher Shelton 23rd Oct '12 - 12:13am

    Policing is not party-political because there needs to be someone independent who can enter Downing Street and question the Prime Minister about whether he sold peerages. Equally, we can’t have political parties demanding that the police investigate or harass their opponents.

    Just because the police are operationally independent does not mean that politicians can’t respond to problems. Politicians also respond to problems in the court system, without controlling judges.

    A committee of elected councilors is likely to scrutinize the Chief Constable, while a PCC is likely to dominate the Chief Constable, since the PCC can hire and fire the Chief Constable at his or her personal whim.

    Democracy is not just about electing people, it is about the rule of law. Perhaps Stephen Tall would like to move to Texas, where all the police, prosecutors, and judges are directly elected partisan officials.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Oct '12 - 12:39am

    I also support elected PCCs. Local democracy in action. I hope their roles can develop further over the years as PCCs, police, electorates, and a free press learn how to use, defend, and improve this new system.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Oct '12 - 6:13am


    But you know what? That’s democracy for you

    No it’s not. There’s a word for the idea that all power should be placed into the hands of one person who being just one person can do all sorts of things on his own without needing to consult or get agreement etc. That word is “fascism”. Power shared by a representative assembly is an essential aspect of liberal democracy. Nothing wrong with one of that assembly taking a strong lead position, but ultimately the power must be shared.

  • Stephen, would you support an EDL or BNP police commissioner should one be elected?

  • Yes, I think the argument you have advanced here, Stephen, could be seen as a part of “strong man” theory. Why? Because it tends to strengthen a clear hierarchy, tending to lead to more authoritarianism, because everyone knows that their job is at risk. This does not necessarily lead to a better job being done, as its proponents claim. I agree that if committees are totally anonymous, and do not carry out a strong citizen or customer – relations function, then something should be done. But if all we are doing is saying “one of you should front up to the media” that isn’t really a very good reason for the whole trappings of “personality culture”. I think we as Lib Dems, in our “people centred caring” role, should be opposing too much focus on individuals, and spreading this to teams. To be honest, the public will find it very difficult to know who in a team, or if more than one, are responsible for particular c*ck ups.The team, and the leader(s) should know, however, and should act appropriately.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Oct '12 - 9:31am

    The PCPs will be there to watch that the PCCs don’t go off the rails.
    http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/police/police-crime-commissioners/public/accountability/

  • Out of interest, do you also support the idea of elected judges like they have in the US?

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Oct '12 - 12:27pm

    Stephen Tall

    How do the voters get rid of a local police authority?

    How do voters get rid of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England? The Liberal Democrats made a big thing about depoliticising this committee by disconnecting it from direct government control. There are good reasons why there needs to be some distance between some aspects of government and direct electoral control. Liberals understand this because Liberals understand the problem of the tyranny of the majority, and thus seek mechanisms which while maintaining the democratic principle have safeguards against its illiberal misuse. Making sure all powers are ultimately jointly held by a representative assembly rather than ultimately in the hands of one person is part of this – it is deeply and fundamentally what we are about, going right back to our foundation in opposition to monarchical government.

    Police Authorities are indirectly put together from democracy, with a majority of members who are elected councillors, and a minority who are appointed. I think we can quiet correctly question their composition and make sure mechanisms are in place to ensure they are representative. Abolishing them and putting their powers into the hands of one person does not do that because one person CANNOT be representative of everyone. The idea that one person alone CAN represent everyone, that somehow just one person can embody the spirit of the nation or community, and that having such a person making decisions solely by himself is “democratic” because of that person’s popular charisma and because one can see him alone doing it and so that makes it clear where power lies, and that this will be much more efficient – grabbing people by their scruffs to get things done, making the trains run on time etc – is at the HEART of the ideology developed in Italy in the 1920s and taken further (with racism added – the original Italian version did not involve racism) in Germany in the 1930s.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Oct '12 - 12:36pm

    Stephen Tall

    And if they fail, they can be kicked out.

    No. Experience with this sort of post suggests there is a very strong incumbency effect. The person in the post has enormous powers to be able to arrange things to stay there. Abolishing collegial rule, the idea that the leader of the council or the nation is primus inter pares, there only with the consent of his peers which must be maintained throughout his period of office holding greatly diminishes any potential “kicking out”. For one thing, the abolition of the assembly elected at a lower level from which the office holder is appointed removes the career ladder by which someone of modest means can rise to the post. For another it removes that flow of information and need to gain consent which would enable an effective challenge to be made from the assembly. And for a third, it simply establishes the mentality of obedience without question, of an authority figure who must be obeyed. This OUGHT to be something we as Liberals oppose heart and mind and soul. It is quite fundamentally against all we stand for.

  • Matthew Huntbach 23rd Oct '12 - 12:45pm

    Stephen Tall

    My three terms on a district council showed me that very clearly

    Yes, and I have three terms on a London Borough council – the London Borough which before all other local authorities wanted to pioneer the “Executive Mayor” model. I was Leader of the Opposition at the time, and I was disgusted by the way it was done and the arguments used for it. What I am writing here about its links with a certain 20th century ideology is not done lightly or just to insult – it is done because when I heard the “knock heads together”, “pick up by the scruffs” etc arguments used for putting all power into the hands of one person, I heard echoes of what was done in those days in Italy and Germany, the same discontent with the bumbling of representative democracy being used to push what if left to go on becomes sheer evil. The echoes may be very faint, but let us make sure they remain very faint, that is why we must make a stand even now and not concede to them as good liberals did in the past because it was all so “modern” and “efficient” and was sort of democratic because the people wanted it.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Oct '12 - 12:53pm

    I think I might like the idea of elected Judicial and Correctional Commissioners, whose tasks might include

    arguing for budgets,
    ensuring that limited judicial and correctional resources are prioritized with due attention to local concerns,
    representation of local wishes in a way that can improve the present system for appointing judges and magistrates
    championing local complaints

  • Nick (not Clegg) 23rd Oct '12 - 2:07pm

    I’ve just received the booklet from the Electoral Commission which, apparently, is intended to motivate us all to go out and vote for our PCCs.

    It states that the duties of the PCCs will include appointing Chief Constables and dismissing them “if needed”.

    Will a Chief Constable who believes that (s)he has been dismissed unfairly have the right to appeal to an Industrial Tribunal?

  • Kevin Colwill 23rd Oct '12 - 5:03pm

    In a big city force there might well be a case for an elected commissioner… but what about in a diverse, largely rural area?

    Wanna know why there are so many candidates (relatively) standing in the Devon and Cornwall force area? Because some are fighting for Cornwall’s vested interests and some for Devon! The single “strong man” approach just isn’t suited to the geography.

    Sometimes, for all their faults, committees do represent an area better. Elected mayors were not imposed where they were not wanted and neither should elected police commissioners. Anyone remember that little word choice??

  • Richard Dean 23rd Oct '12 - 6:49pm

    Sounds like a winning strategy in Devon and Cornwall might be to support the “vested interests” of both!

  • At what level of turnout will the Government admit it got it wrong on elected PCCs? And will we get anywhere near that?

  • Tony Dawson 23rd Oct '12 - 8:03pm

    “For too long, city council politics have been in the hands of amateur part-time leaders:”

    Eh?

    Most municipal political leaders I have known (and half a dozen or so of their immediate second row cohort) have been full-time for as long as I can remember.

    PCCs are far worse than Elected Mayors. An Elected Mayor must balance all policy areas locally. PCCs can set a precept which can then penalise the providers of other local services unless the council tax is put up. They have far too narrow a view. An elected mayor has to have a Cabinet to actually specialise in different areas and deliver things. A PCC can be a one man band (or have a deputy if he/she wants. An Elected Mayor is under pressure across the boar on a number of fronts from day one in office. A PCC with a ‘gift of the gab’ can get away with doing SFA and still get re-elected having relied upon a good Chief Constable and their team.

    The best argument against PCCs is that the people don’t want them and never asked for them. Over 90 per cent of the public are against them in hundreds of returns so far to our latest constituency survey.

  • Stuart Mitchell 23rd Oct '12 - 9:47pm

    Hate the whole idea. The police should be seen to serve the whole community equally. Elected PCCs, by their very nature, will inevitably be seen to favour those small groups within communities which elect them. If turnouts are as tiny as predicted, the new system will actually be a diminution of democracy.

  • Charles Beaumont 23rd Oct '12 - 10:31pm

    It’s wonderful to see liberals deciding that some things are too important to be left to ordinary voters (i.e. they might turn out not to be liberal enough). That shows a misunderstanding of the role – this is not an election for a Chief Constable with powers of arrest. It is an overall leader setting strategic direction. This country is overwhelmed with a quangocracy that is accountable only to itself (including police authorities). It’s good to see a small part of that undermined. Of course, there’ll be some nutters elected, but it’s not as if they’ll have the power to impose the death penalty. At present, different constabularies can choose to take remarkably different approaches on certain types of crime and the public has no say in that.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Oct '12 - 10:53pm

    Anyone who sees Boris Johnson in action will realise that mayors do make use of gift of gab skills!

    Sometimes I wonder whether LibDems really know what democracy is. The bargain between the electorate these days is…. Lead us and we will follow, provided only that we benefit from the arrangement. The strong person approach is what the electorate want and understand, and voted for in a recent referendum. Most of the electorate really don’t like messy committees, and if this is what most want, that’s a democratic choice. A first past the post MP is supposed to represent the interests of the whole constituency, even though a party member, so there cannot be anything unusual in expecting PCCs to do this too. That MP is a one-person band playing in Westminster. And ministers have many of the same one-person-band characteristics when they direct their teams of civil servants in ministries – cabinet and even party scrutiny does not seem to usually very restrictive, at least from the biographies I’ve read.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Oct '12 - 10:55pm

    Typo again … should be …….. between the electorate and politicians …

  • Charles Beaumont 23rd Oct '12 - 11:18pm

    Funny how many liberals seem to think the general public can’t be trusted to exercise power. Few seem to realise that PCCs aren’t police officers: they’re policy leaders. At present local constabularies can exercise wide discretion on how to treat certain offences (remember Brian Paddick’s policy on hash in Brixton). So this isn’t new, but just offering greater accountability.

  • Tony Dawson 24th Oct '12 - 9:10am

    @Charles Beaumont :

    “It’s wonderful to see liberals deciding that some things are too important to be left to ordinary voters (i.e. they might turn out not to be liberal enough). That shows a misunderstanding of the role – this is not an election for a Chief Constable with powers of arrest. It is an overall leader setting strategic direction.”

    At the moment, each part of our local authority area has LOCAL members of the Police Authority who know our area and are accountable to all councillors at every single Council meeting where they can be questioned. ‘Leadership’ is given after being thrashed out between a set of politicians from all parties and areas and magistrates as well. Policy generally comes better from such a group (I would have all voting reps elected, personally) than from a single demagogue.

    We presently put policing issues onto our FOCUS all year round as and when they become important in a given area: the people we are trying to persuade to vote for us can have a say on policing matters all year round and balance their thoughts on this area with their thoughts on other policy areas when choosing their councillors. We call this REPRESENTATIVE democracy. PCCs are a Demagogy.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Oct '12 - 10:04am

    Charles Beaumont

    It’s wonderful to see liberals deciding that some things are too important to be left to ordinary voters (i.e. they might turn out not to be liberal enough).

    Oh, LOOK at the weasel wording here. No-one in this debate has been arguing against democratic control of the police, the argument is over whether that control should be in the hands of a representative committee or in the hands of one person. The rich and powerful in our society want these single-person control things because it fits in with their superiority complex – ordinary people can’t possibly be able to take power and use it for themselves, as it was put: “For too long, city council politics have been in the hands of amateur part-time leaders“. Oh no, we need fat cats and big shots to run things. So we’ll have county-wide elections where you need to be a well-known fat cat or big shot to win. And as the ultimate insult, we’ll accuse those who stick to the idea of representative democracy at a scale where ordinary people can get involved and elected of being opposed to democracy, eliding over what we really mean which is “They are opposed to OUR sort of democracy”.

  • Richard Dean 24th Oct '12 - 10:11am

    Wow! LibDems refuse to allow the electorate to democratically choose the type of democracy they want! Now there’s a Sun headline!

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Oct '12 - 10:12am

    Richard Dean

    Sometimes I wonder whether LibDems really know what democracy is. The bargain between the electorate these days is…. Lead us and we will follow, provided only that we benefit from the arrangement. The strong person approach is what the electorate want and understand, and voted for in a recent referendum. Most of the electorate really don’t like messy committees, and if this is what most want, that’s a democratic choice.

    As I have already said, this is just the argument that was used to argue for a system of one-person control in Italy in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s. It may be what the people want, but so what? It is our duty as liberal democrats to convince them that they are wrong,

    A first past the post MP is supposed to represent the interests of the whole constituency, even though a party member, so there cannot be anything unusual in expecting PCCs to do this too. That MP is a one-person band playing in Westminster.

    No, that is not at all the same thing (and I don’t like the idea of single-person MPs for a constituency either – one of the reason for supporting proportional representation is to oppose this idea). MPs do not have executive control of anything, there is no issue on which an MP is a sole decision maker, MPs are part of a collective decision-making body.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Oct '12 - 10:16am

    Richard Dean

    Wow! LibDems refuse to allow the electorate to democratically choose the type of democracy they want! Now there’s a Sun headline!

    Opposition to the tyranny of the majority has always been a key aspect of liberalism. History has shown us many cases where the majority has naively opted for a system which proved to be a tyranny, but having opted for it found there was no way out of it.

  • Richard Dean 24th Oct '12 - 10:51am

    Matthew
    I have always been puzzled by that. It sounds like LibDems are happier with the tyranny of the minority!
    We don’t really live in a representative democracy, do we? We live in a delegate democracy. This is an entirely acceptable form of democracy, in which the electorate delegate power and a leadership role to MPs – who are called “members” rather than “representatives”. Is it really true that LibDems cannot accept this kind of democracy?

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Oct '12 - 10:51am

    Lee Griffin

    I already responded to this elsewhere http://niaccurshi.blogspot.co.uk/2012/10/police-and-crime-commissioners.html

    I have tried to respond to Stephen Tall on your blog, but I’m not sure my response got through.

    What I was trying to say was that I spent 12 years as a councillor, during which time the council moved from the committee system to the executive mayor system. Under the committee system I felt I could effectively hold the council to account, as though I would be outvoted if I forced a vote on a decision, the fact that the council and its committees were in theory decision-making bodies meant sitting on them gave me a full flow of data and decisions being made, and kept me in contact with the officers. All this was cut off once the mayoral system was introduced, there was no longer that flow of information, I no longer knew what the council was doing and why, I no longer had contact with the officers doing the work. Without knowing what was being done, what the data was to justify it, who were the officers doing it, I did not know what to ask or who to ask, and I felt I had moved from doing a useful job to one where I was of very little use, just a decorative role.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Oct '12 - 10:56am

    Richard Dean

    I have always been puzzled by that. It sounds like LibDems are happier with the tyranny of the minority!
    We don’t really live in a representative democracy, do we? We live in a delegate democracy. This is an entirely acceptable form of democracy, in which the electorate delegate power and a leadership role to MPs – who are called “members” rather than “representatives”

    It would not be practical for all of us citizens to sit all day debating and deciding on government decisions. Therefore we elect a representative chamber to do it. The chamber must be as representative as it can of all opinions and situations, so that the conclusions it comes to are the conclusions we as a citizen body would come to if we had the time to sit there and do a proper job of it.

    Electing one person as a dictator and saying it’s “democratic” because the dictator had a majority of the vote is not the same as this.

  • Richard Dean 24th Oct '12 - 12:05pm

    The triumph of theory over practice! In practice there is no way of knowing whether the chamber does or does not come to the same decisions as the electorate should or would. That’s not the way it works anyway. Chambers can easily end up being dominated by a small group who decide on the basis of a minority ideology. Committees are the same or worse.. One of the advantages of PCCs is that each one can be the focus of the electorate’s pressures. At the same time, their performance will be monitored for sure, including by PCPs and by the vigilant, cutthroat free press. Sounds like the best of both worlds!

  • Charles Beaumont 24th Oct '12 - 12:43pm

    @Matthew it’s an incredibly weak argument to suggest that any system that elects an individual with executive powers is necessarily going to lead to demagoguery. And then bring in Italy and Germany in the 30s just in case your argument was alarmist enough. I seem to recall that Hitler came to power in a parliamentary system, but never mind. Those who argue that the existing system is representative enough are missing the fact that most ordinary people have no idea about the function of (appointed) police authorities.

  • Tony Dawson 24th Oct '12 - 1:51pm

    Richard Dean:

    ” Chambers can easily end up being dominated by a small group who decide on the basis of a minority ideology. Committees are the same or worse.” Sounds like Mussolini would be your man! :-)

    ‘can easily be…..’ ??????? Why not ‘can easily not be’???? We get the democracy we deserve.

    You say PCCs ‘can be’ the focus of the electorate’s pressures. I find that very hard to believe. Any sensible member of the electorate who wants things done will go to their area Inspector or Chief Super, failing that the Chief Constable – and if nothing is doing there will go to their MP. Just like they do now.

    Why haven’t we agreed on directly-elected dog catchers? Or Crematorium managers….?

  • Tony Dawson 24th Oct '12 - 1:54pm

    Charles Beaumont :

    ” most ordinary people have no idea about the function of (appointed) police authorities.

    ………………..and why should they need to be so-informed unless they want to?”

    They have concerns: they go to their councillors and the local councillors pursue them through the local Police Authority if necessary. In reality, they mostly do things directly with the local Inspectors.

  • Richard Dean 24th Oct '12 - 3:24pm

    In reality, Tony, what we tend to do now is riot, as you may have noticed last year, and many times before that.

  • Charles Beaumont 24th Oct '12 - 4:03pm

    @Tony To be honest it’s not that the current system is totally ineffective. But there is a real crisis of public engagement in the political process and a sense that the ordinary citizen is powerless. If direct elections change that I’d happily directly elect anyone within reason: dog catcher, crematorium manager etc.

  • Tony Dawson 24th Oct '12 - 8:56pm

    @Richard Dean :

    “In reality, Tony, what we tend to do now is riot”

    “Vote for me as PCC and I shall stop riots from happening” Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha :-(

    @Charles Beaumont :

    ” there is a real crisis of public engagement in the political process and a sense that the ordinary citizen is powerless. ”

    Which is why I was harangued in the street about 20 minutes ago while I was out delivering about this PCC malarky being another case of jobs for the boys and a fat wad in the back pocket of political hangers on. I repeat, well over 90 per cent of our survey forms returned so far say ‘we don’t want political police commissioners’.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Oct '12 - 10:35pm

    Charles Beaumont

    @Matthew it’s an incredibly weak argument to suggest that any system that elects an individual with executive powers is necessarily going to lead to demagoguery. And then bring in Italy and Germany in the 30s just in case your argument was alarmist enough. I seem to recall that Hitler came to power in a parliamentary system, but never mind

    The point I am making is that the arguments used for these one-person executive posts are similar to the arguments that were used to justify moves towards dictatorships in Italy in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s. Yes, Germany and Italy had Parliamentary system, but it was just this idea that Parliamentary systems with all their debate and compromise were bad that led to the Parliaments giving way to dictatorship. We ask now “How could they do it?”, but if you look at what was being said then to justify it, it was all very much along the lines “having the decisions made by a single person who has the personal strength to be an effective ruler is much more open than having them made by committees”, “we need a strong ruler who can cut through bureaucracy and get things done”, and so on.

    I’m making a “slippery slope” argument rather than suggesting this will necessarily and immediately lead to demagoguery. However, if one looks through history one can see this happening so many times. It seems to me that our party, of all parties, ought to be vigilant against it happening.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Oct '12 - 10:40pm

    Richard Dean

    The triumph of theory over practice! In practice there is no way of knowing whether the chamber does or does not come to the same decisions as the electorate should or would.

    That is why we need an effective democratic system to make sure the chamber really is representative of the population. We also need to reinvigorate the spirit of democracy, by getting people active in it again. This means reconsidering how political parties work, how they present themselves, away from the current idea that they should be fan-clubs of their national leader towards the older idea that they are co-operative networks by which people of modest means can get together to get some of their number elected, making sure those who are elected are people they trust to be true and decent representatives.

  • Matthew Huntbach 24th Oct '12 - 10:42pm

    Richard Dean

    Chambers can easily end up being dominated by a small group who decide on the basis of a minority ideology.

    So you would rather have power given to an even smaller group – consisting of one person?

  • Richard Dean 24th Oct '12 - 10:58pm

    The new system looks less open to corruption than the present one. I’d rather see power that is accessible and open to criticism from the electorate, rather than obscured and protected by a committee. PCCs will be scrutinized by PCPs, by the press, by the electorate, and by the police too, will see the PCC’s effects in their working lives.

  • Matthew Huntbach 25th Oct '12 - 12:23pm

    Richard Dean

    The new system looks less open to corruption than the present one. I’d rather see power that is accessible and open to criticism from the electorate, rather than obscured and protected by a committee.

    But there you go, what you are putting is essentially the argument against representative democracy. Applying the same argument to national government says we should abolish Parliament and instead be ruled by a dictator because a dictator is open and accessible and it’s very obvious where the decisions are being made and a dictator will obviously be a very good person who is not open to corruption.

  • Richard Dean 25th Oct '12 - 2:03pm

    Matthew – I refer you to the asnwer I gave before
    http://www.libdemvoice.org/mervyn-barrett-31057.html#comment-225700

  • Mike Nicholls 26th Oct '12 - 12:19pm

    What worries me is the situation when the police commissiomers come for re-election. The one thing the public as a whole appears to want is more “Bobby’s on the Beat”. There are many more aspects to the work of the police that seldom hit the headlines, but are vital for our protection and the cohesion of society.

    As re-election approaches it would be all too tempting to reduce the staffing of specialist departments in favour of visible presence on the streets. I am not suggesting that specialist departments would be closed , but that they might lose 5 -10% of their personnel. The immediate effect might not be noticeable but the long term damage could be disastrous.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Oct '12 - 1:41am

    Richard Dean

    Matthew – I refer you to the asnwer I gave before
    http://www.libdemvoice.org/mervyn-barrett-31057.html#comment-225700

    So? Where in that is the argument that we should dispense with elections to a representative body and instead have elections for a single person? You seem to be putting a great deal on supposing there will be an active and informed press who will scrutinise in detail what is happening here. Have you seen what has happened to the local press in most places these days? Where it exists it tends to be a monopoly, and even when it hasn’t totally become a freesheet where journalism has been replaced by a few bland articles quoting from press releases, it rarely seems well informed on local government issues.

  • Richard Dean 27th Oct '12 - 2:38am

    Matthew, May I refer you to the interesting piece by Linda Jack, and the subsequent discussion there?
    http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-what-kind-of-pcc-do-you-want-and-why-does-it-matter-31067.html

  • Matthew Huntbach 29th Oct '12 - 10:06pm

    Richard Dean

    Matthew, May I refer you to the interesting piece by Linda Jack, and the subsequent discussion there?
    http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-what-kind-of-pcc-do-you-want-and-why-does-it-matter-31067.html

    I am not an admirer of Linda Jack. For politeness sake, I’d rather leave it at that.

  • Richard Dean 29th Oct '12 - 11:24pm

    This is a discussion on politics. It hopefully involves reasoned and compassionate argument. It has got nothing to do with whether someone admires someone or not.

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