Home Secretary Theresa May has confirmed plans for major police reform, although I am aware that “major police reform” is the kind of phrase often too often from the Home Office recently. It became quite common under the Labour Government, whose tabloid led reform was very much “top down” – more targets, more dictats, more demands. It was “reform by Daily Mail”, a concept so unsettling in its breadth I feel slightly dead inside thinking about the entire consequences.
May has proposed changing this around – the two headlines are the introduction of elected Police Commissioners by 2012, and the abolition of SOCA. Well, “building upon” SOCA, to form a new National Crime Agency from the amalgamation of numerous existing bodies.
On elected Police Commissioners, I support the plans as set out. It is right, if we are to have a police force which works for the safety of local communities, to have accountability at a local level. It remains the case that the police are largely without a single answerable higher force. I’m not great fan of the civil liberty hoovering-up which occurred under Labour, where the police became Moral Guardians, Drink Monitors and Attitude Surveyors. Theresa May must do what she can to focus the police on ACTUAL crime, not Thought Policing.
I hear a lot of “What about the BNP” straw-man arguments about elected Commissioners. Party membership is forbidden at the highest level of the existing police structure, I would hope this remains the case. However if the Commission candidates are able to be party political, then that’s fine by me. Ever since a member of the English Democrats was elected as Mayor of Doncaster, he has done more damage to the reputation of the far-right than anyone could have dreamed. His Party are no more a threat now than before his election; in 2010, despite his “ground breaking” election, the English Democrats continue to be nothing more than a vociferous bunch of nut-jobs. I have no fear about them, or the BNP, or any other extremists being elected; the far-right just are not able to secure electoral credibility.
In any case, using the BNP as a threat against allowing people to vote in elections, even changing the voting system, is incredibly patronising. It supposes that democracy is open to all, just not to all. The idea that increasing accountability or changing voting systems or opening up the House of Lords should be curtailed because of the ‘threat’ of the BNP is in itself anti-democratic and extreme.
One encouraging additional announcement from Theresa May is her pledge not to force police forces to merge. I remember campaigning against the planned merger of Lancashire and Cumbria forces into the laughably named “CaLPOL” some years ago. I was confronted in Lancaster by a self-proclaimed anarchist who wanted all police forces disbanded, these things tend to stick with you. As the Derrick Bird and Raoul Moat cases have proven, Constabularies need to know their local area intimately. It would have been far worse with Bird, for example, to expect a merged “CaLPOL” to follow a gunman through winding Cumbrian roads. Northumberland Police were able to get help from neighbouring forces, but it was their own knowledge of the rural outcrops of Rothbury which ultimately helped find Moat. A “Greater North East” police force would have focused its resources on Newcastle City Centre to the detriment of everywhere else.
A message board I visit began to discuss the full privatisation of the Police force, on the grounds that the State shouldn’t have its own “legislation enforcement team” in any case. Such a radical consideration falls down after some scrutiny, perhaps mercifully. As a realistic alternative, allowing members of the public to hold their local bobbies to greater account will do for me.
It is a sign of the times that it is Labour who want to deny devolution and accountability, while the Conservative-led coalition are taking power away from unelected bodies into the hand of ordinary people.