The election is over. The PCCs have begun work. They have all sworn an oath of impartiality. So does that mean we can now leave politics aside until 2016?
In my view: yes and no.
There are many people (including about a 1/3 of the PCCs) who believe that party politics (if not politics in general) has nothing to do with the governance of policing. I have argued here and elsewhere over the last few months that policing strategy and governance has always been, and will always be, political. When decisions are being taken about the deployment of scarce resources (for example), those decisions cannot be anything but political, in my opinion. Choices over priorities will have to be made and these are influenced by politics and values. I do not think PCCs will be influenced in a crude way in that they will merely be seeking to favour their core support: politics is more subtle than that. But PCCs will be employing sets of principles and values to determine their approach to budgeting the police and crime monies, whether these are explicit or not.
Moreover, one of the more interesting hustings discussions that happened during the campaign here in Thames Valley (and one that I have only heard & read about) was about whether police should be routinely armed with tasers or not. This was a political and ethical discussion but I am not sure how much it interacted with party politics per se. There were other debates elsewhere about whether police resources should be used to protect farmers culling badgers. Everyone reading this will surely know just how political animal ‘management’ politics can get… And all this hinges upon the dividing line between what is strategic and what is operational, naturally.
Given that PCCs will be have to be functioning on the national stage as well and relating to government (see for example PCC Bob Jones’ letter to the Chancellor) one can easily see how PCCs individually and collectively will have to be political.
So, no, politics cannot be left aside until 2016. But also yes: now is the time to be non-partisan. PCCs and those working with them now need to leave aside the electioneering contest behaviours and get on with the serious job of making a difference to their local communities.
Shrewd observers of my blog will have noticed that I have removed the obvious emblems of my Labour party membership. Please do not be confused, I still act as a Labour town councillor (there are eight of us on Buckingham Town Council out of a total of 17 councillors) and I will be actively campaigning for Labour values and election victories in the future. But now is the time to put aside party political differences (as I have always done in my work with the police service and other public agencies) and get on with the business of stimulating, supporting, assisting, nudging and occasionally prodding PCCs to make lasting improvements to policing, crime reduction and community safety for the benefit of us all.
This is a time for collegiate and collective action based on evidence based practice, transparency, accountability and a robust passion for a better criminal justice system. In other words, a just future: fair for all.
And this is why the Confederation of Police & Crime Commissioners has the potential ably to assist PCCs. We are people from across the political spectrum (and none) who acknowledge our differences but are committed to working together in support of PCCs and the whole new governance structure.
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