This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Simon Weston and 'the plan'

The debate about ‘politics and policing’ is stepping up a gear or two. The announcement by Simon Weston that he has decided to pull out of the race to become the PCC for South Wales because it has all become “too political” (see Guardian article of 2/7/12) is one that deserves careful reflection.

When he was 14, Mr Weston was convicted of a crime that would probably have meant he could not become PCC in any case, although we will probably never know whether that would have been the case or not. In my view, this conviction says far more about the people he was mixing with as a teenager than it does about the man that Simon Weston is today. Anyone who has been through what he has been through and, moreover, how he has handled that experience, will have become wiser and more aware of the complexities of current society than most. He would have been a worthy contender – although I am sure that Alun Michael would have won and will win by dint of his greater experience in the field of policing and the criminal justice system.

However, at the same time, I think that Simon Weston was naïve in thinking (as the reporting of his campaign has suggested) that the race would be anything other than very political. To understand why, we only have to go back to one of the blueprints that led to this new governance structure in the first place.

“The Plan: twelve months to renew Britain” written and published by Douglas Carswell & Daniel Hannan in 2008 was the proto Tory manifesto for 2010. Nick Herbert, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt and Theresa Villiers are listed as supporters of ‘Direct Democracy” in the back of the book. After section one on ‘cleaning up Westminster’, section two is entitled ‘A return to law, order and accountability’. The section
begins with a helpful summary:

> Police to be placed under directly elected Sheriffs
> Sheriffs to control all aspects of local policing, prioritising offences and setting budgets
> Sheriffs also to administer probation, young offenders institutes, community service orders and prison places
> Sheriffs to take over the roles of the Crown Prosecution Service
> Sheriffs to set local sentencing guidelines
> Directly elected mayors to perform Sheriffs role where metropolitan area is congruent with the constabulary (currently only London)
So that is ‘the plan’.

I won’t summarise the whole chapter but I commend it to you as essential reading if you wish to have more insight into the psyche of our Government’s thinking about law and order – and direct democracy. The book is available on Amazon (or better still, borrow it from your local library or look for one in a charity shop so that more money doesn’t go to Carswell and Hannan!)

But here a one quote:
“The Sheriff should also be responsible for supervising sentenced criminals. There should be a local purchaser-provider split. Each Sheriff should have responsibility for purchasing space in prisons and other ‘disposals’ (probation and community punishment capacity), with regard to local wishes.

Finally the Sheriff should have the power to set local sentencing guidelines. While granting an elected official the right intervene in individual cases would plainly be at odds with the separation of powers, there is no reason why local voters should not have some say over which categories of crime to prioritise. This may well lead to disparities: shoplifting might lead to incarceration in Kent, but not in Surrey. ”
You will then have read the book to be fascinated by their speculation about what might then happen with Kentish crooks deciding to “pour over the county border” to raid Surrey homes due to a lesser punishment in that county. (I am not making this up…!)

So the idea that the introduction of Police & Crime Commissioners was ever going to be anything but intensely political is frankly, laughable. The notion that what the Tories really wanted were people like Simon Weston to stand was mere spin and the attempt to sanitise (or detoxify?) what is evidently a long term strategy to reduce the practice of policing and the administration of justice to raw populism & tabloid simplification.

Please do not be fooled.


  1. Anonymous3/7/12 11:57

    If the residents of Surrey were then worried wouldn't they push for (& then pay for) tougher / more deterring sentences and /or better enforcement?

  2. Well 'anonymous' that, of course, is the one of the scenarios outlined in the book. Another is that the electors of Kent would get fed up paying for all the hard line prison policies of their Sheriff and seek to elect someone else (some years later...)

    The question is would such a market based approach result in better or worse justice for the communities of Surrey and Kent (in this example). I happen to think that applying a market solution would have dire predictable and unforeseen consequences.

    If the prison businesses on Sheppey went bust because the Kent Sheriff had run out of money, what would happen then?