Last week the Government was dealt another blow to its policy agenda when voters overwhelmingly rejected their Police Commissioners at the polls. Plymouth saw just 13% of voters vote in these elections and the wider South West didn’t do much better with an average turnout of just 15%.
Anyone who spent anytime speaking to voters on the doorsteps in this election would have instantly been struck not only by the public apathy towards inventing a new type of politician, but by an anger that they didn’t want the police politicised. At a time of austerity why was the Government spending £100 million – enough for 3,000 new frontline police officers – on creating politicians that no one wants I was asked a fair few times? I agree with them.
Although a goodly number of voters knew little about the election or who the candidates were – something the Government is solely to blame for in refusing to send a Freepost mailing with candidate details to voters – a good number of the people I spoke to in Plymouth knew about these elections and knew that they didn’t want to vote in them.
A look at the spoilt ballot papers on election night highlighted the public’s view of these elections: “don’t politicse the police”, “we don’t need anymore politicians” said another. A fair few had calls for Commissioner Gordon from Batman and other such crime-fighting remarks but the message was clear: the public do not want Police Commissioners. Combine the low turnout with the anger and the annoyance that £100 million was wasted on these elections and the Tory Government has yet again messed up.
But what of the winner in Devon & Cornwall? Tony Hogg seems like a good man. People speak highly of him and when I met him I found him to be courteous, polite and ready to engage. But let’s be clear though, he’s a Conservative politician and now the Tories run our Police force watch out for what the Tories are doing to our other public services: cutting, privatising and spinning that all is fine and well when we all know the opposite is true.
Crime is going up in Devon and Cornwall so this seems a perfect time for the new Commissioner to inherit cuts of 700 Police Officers. By 2015 one in five of Devon and Cornwall’s Police officers will have been sacked. But, that’s not all.
Police privatisation is on the horizon with the election of a Tory Commissioner. I hope Mr Hogg doesn’t go down the path of giving policing duties to G4S or other security firms. This farce of an election is no mandate from the people to privatise and cut further and he and his Tory chums in the Home Office and Downing Street need to understand this.
Nicky Williams, Labour’s brilliant candidate, came third; a fine performance for a party that is only really in the running in a few places across Devon and Cornwall. Her achievement in this election is not in amassing votes but in highlighting the issues that really matter: police cuts, rural crime, hate crime and safety fears and many more. These issues won’t go away anytime soon and further cuts to our Police will only make tackling these issues harder.
Sitting on the Police and Crime Panel that oversees the work of the Commissioner I know she’s going to be keeping a watchful eye on developments and we should all be grateful that someone with as much talent and passion for policing in partnership with local communities has not been lost after this election contest.
The Police do a great job in Devon and Cornwall and it is a source of much regret that their work has been politicised by this Government and their Police reforms. We all need to be prudent to watch out for what the new Commissioner does and be ready to oppose privatisation of policing if that is what Mr Hogg proposes.
Coping with massive and unfair budget cuts from the Tory-led Government is going to be difficult and I, for one, wish him the best of luck. He would be well advised to read Nicky Williams’ manifesto about how to do this while maintaining decent public services. But let’s be clear on this Commissioner: you have no mandate for privatising our Police.