As some of you may know, I write a fortnightly column – alternating with My-Mate-Mike (he who hovers just to the right of Genghis Khan and is considered a suitable antidote for what he views as my ‘dangerously-pink” tendencies) – in the Isle of Thanet Gazette. In theory this appears online on http://www.thisiskent.co.uk. In practice it frequently doesn’t. If it does, you need a degree in orienteering to find it and then, when you get there, it doesn’t bear my name.
So I am going to start posting it here. Every second Friday. Or Saturday if I’ve been up late.
Here is the column from Friday 2nd November 2012. If you don’t live in Kent it won’t all be relevant but I hope as a principle it will resonate. Grrr, I say. And more Grrrs.
Plain Jane. Isle of Thanet Gazette. Friday November 2nd 2012
I was first able to vote in the General Election of 1983 and I haven’t missed one since. I do local elections too. Those who don’t, annoy me. Especially if they then complain about any aspect of public life, ever again. Women like this are especially disappointing. Was Emily Davison trampled for nothing? Even if I genuinely couldn’t decide who I next wanted to mess things up, I would go along to the polling station and scrawl: “you’re as bad as each other” rather than stay at home. It’s a principle. As is my recent decision to drop my latest poll card in the bin. I am delighted that that a low turnout is predicted for the forthcoming election of a Police and Crime Commissioner for the Kent police area. Boycotting is the only way to protest at such a deeply flawed scheme. Even if keeping away brings a small frisson of fear at who might get in. At least candidate Ann Barnes has been Chair of the Kent Police Authority and a magistrate; Piers Wauchope a criminal barrister. But Craig Mackinlay is a chartered accountant and Harriet Bronwen Yeo’s claim to fame is being “treasurer of a multi-million organisation”.
What do bean-counters know about policing? And should it really be about cost? I don’t know much about policing either. Which is why I do not believe I am equipped to vote on who is suitable to be “overseeing” the police operation. What I do recognise is the unmistakable feeling of my blood running cold. “I’d be directly responsible for hiring and firing of the Kent Chief Constable” announces the creepily-named Steve Uncles in his election statement, going on to offer nothing in the way of qualifications befitting this momentous responsibility, or any personal information whatsoever except the unsettling news that he is an “English Democrat”. A little judicious Googling also reveals he has been accused of racism more than once (his pledges include “returning policing to ‘common sense’ values, treating all the people of Kent in an equal and fair manner, and not special treatment for minorities”. Which special treatment is that then, Steve? Being 37 times more likely, as recent research suggests, to be stopped and searched if one is black?) and is not terribly popular even with fellow ED members. Is this who we want in charge of the county’s police service?
The truth is, surely, that we don’t want ANYONE with their own political agenda having that sort of power. The police are, and should be, politically neutral. The system of police authorities, which this elected commissioner business is going to replace, was based on non-political committees – including at least one magistrate – but, whatever the theory, this new set-up is likely to see prospective commissioners from one of the main parties grabbing the votes. They’ll be the ones with the full weight of the party machine (and the finance) behind them to do the canvassing. So they’ll be the ones to get in. And once that happens it is natural that they will be “overseeing” the police with an eye on their own party’s agenda. Should the unthinkable happen and one of the extreme far right – or far left – parties gain power in the future, where would that leave fair and independent enforcement of the law? And what might come next? Lay people voted in to head up other vital services? Any old body supervising the local Health Service or holding the Education authority to account? More pricey TV adverts to encourage voting in the Governor of the Bank of England? Popularly-elected judges – never mind their credentials? If we want untrained individuals wielding too much power, and playing God with our budgets there are plenty on local councils. Isn’t that enough?