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.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A little like warm soup: the Liberal Democrat sets out his policies to be elected PCC

Whilst John Howson and his party colleagues seem reluctant to say much about how he was selected (which, frankly, is not of huge importance although when people refuse to answer direct questions, I always get a bit suspicious, don't you?) he has been (sort of) explaining his policies...

(This is great deal more than Conservative nominee Cllr Anthony Stansfeld who is showing his understanding of local accountability to the voters of Thames Valley by offering a wall of silence.)

And so, prompted by a brief discussion on Broadcasting House this morning between Ken Livingstone and Malcolm Bruce on the possibility of a LibLab coalition sometime in the future, I thought I would do a Labour analysis of Professor Howson's policies as currently published on the Policy Exchange website. Where can I agree with him... and where would I disagree:

What is your vision for policing in the Thames Valley?

Professor Howson goes on a bit here. In essence he talks about the importance of Policing by consent and that the police "essentially about preventing, detecting and solving crime and carrying out the many other functions society requires of them". No arguments on policing by consent, naturally. His focus on crime is a little narrow since I would say that the role of the police is fundamentally about assuring community safety and maintaining the Queen's peace. So much of what the police do is about that wider brief than a restricted focus on crime. Disorder features as well. (See this useful summary in the Economist of the HMIC's recent report into crime prevention which partly focused on what the police do with their time) Although their provenance is sometimes disputed, the principles laid down by Peel still stand the test of time for me and many involved with policing.

Why should people in the Thames Valley vote for you?

This section is mainly about him saying why he has the credentials to be the PCC for Thames Valley. I note that he interpreted this section about only that. Others might have used this section to explain what they would seek to achieve for the public of Thames Valley if they were to be elected... True he says he is "especially interested in policies that will reduce the number of young people entering into a life of crime" but does not say what he plans to do. He also says that he will work to "make the Thames Valley a safer place for all who live there, work there or just visit us" but not how or more precisely what he aims to make happen. A bit more on substantive policies would have been far more informative.

What inspired you to stand as a Police & Crime Commissioner?

Again this where Policy Exchange seems to be showing its bias and trying to make these elections all about people not about policies. Professor Howson responds by talking about how pivotal the role could be and how he wants to focus on creating a safer Thames Valley. Yawn...

Why are you qualified to be the Police & Crime Commissioner?

This is getting tedious now: why are Policy Exchange's questions all about the person? Professor Howson talks about himself (again). Now I know that is what the question asks but a policy driven politician would use the question to get across some inspiring ideas, not just more of his CV! But there is a statement here that is very VERY illuminating. (Can you spot it below?)

He says "I also have the time available to undertake the role." Hmm. Let's unpack that a little. Firstly why would he not have the time to do this as being a PCC is a full time job in my view. Unless he means to carry on his other work in Education and running his own company? That could explain the basis of this statement. Perhaps Professor Howson would like to say some more about what lies behind that statement?

What one thing would you like to change about local policing if you were elected?

Well. His opening statement is "Ensure work with young people wasn't cut." That is a bit rich coming from a Liberal Democrat whose coalition government has probably cut more services and opportunities for young people than any previous government. I agree with his sentiments naturally but how can state this policy with any integrity? Need I remind him that it was his party that reneged on their pledge not to raise tuition fees and will be inflicting a lifetime of huge debt onto thousands of young people? What action has he taken to back up his stated policy?

What would be your top three crime priorities if you are elected?

OK, finally this question points towards substantive policies. What does Professor Howson say? His three priorities are "Working with the Chief Constable and other agencies on how to prevent crime [1], increasing detection rates to the best possible levels across the force with the resources available [2], and ensuring everyone who is a victim of crime is dealt with to the same level by the police [3]. (My inserted square brackets.)

So that is crime prevention, a (heavily qualified) commitment to increasing detection rates and ensuring victims receive same (poor, excellent, variable??) level of care across Thames Valley. Seriously? What about violence against women and the raw fear that leaves people with? (See this story in the Reading Chronicle from yesterday for example). What about crimes against young people? What about human trafficking? I interpreted the question about priorities as being about certain kinds of crime, not some anodyne list of generic themes...

What is your most memorable personal experience of policing in the Thames Valley?

(First let me say again, the bias towards the person/personal in these questions from Policy Exchange is breathtaking. X Factor focuses more on performance than this!! And what does it say about Professor Howson that he has chosen this as (so far) his main vehicle to get his views across to the electorate of Thames Valley. I think this shows a lack of insight into the world of policing and crime. Did he not know Policy Exchange's track record?!)

Professor Howson says he has been burgled three times, once as recent as this year. He has received excellent help from local police officers. Three times. Could this be a reason why he is so keen on prevention!

How do you view your role in the criminal justice system beyond policing?

Professor Howson says "The Police & Crime Commissioner has a pivotal role to play not least in ensuring resources aren't wasted through duplication or a lack of coordination" Interesting, no mention of the fact that Thames Valley has an extensive collaboration with Hampshire Police. Does he even know that is happening?

"The Police & Crime Commissioner can play a strategic role bringing together other agencies but must essentially see the Police as their main focus unless the politicians at Westminster are going to further redefine the role beyond its present remit as has been suggested in the White Paper. I do not believe the Police & Crime Commissioner should be responsible for Victim Services or have anything to do with sentencing." I tend to agree, the policing side of the job will dominate. And certainly, PCCs should have nothing to do with sentencing. But hang on! This is interesting as he makes much of his experience as a magistrate. What is it that magistrates mainly do? They decide on guilt and they sentence. So the very experience he uses to support his bid to be PCC is, in his own words, nothing to do with the role of the PCC.... Other than that, what he says is all pretty vanilla. Could we have some crunchy policies please?

"The role is about working with agencies to reduce crime and to detect crime where it does take place." Again a missed opportunity here. He has written nothing about leadership. In my view this is a leadership role where by dint of the elected position, joined up action could be stimulated and led by the PCC....

Professional Background

Again, the focus of Policy Exchange on the person not the policies... No comments to make


And so where does this leave me in my appraisal of Professor Howson's policies? His policies all seem a bit vague to me: a kind of warm soup that looks OKish on the surface but you are left wondering what might be lurking at the bottom - if anything. He specifically did not use the opportunity to talk about resources, budget policy, privatisation or the strategic policing requirement or indeed anything that could be controversial. I hope we see more in coming weeks...

1 comment:

  1. Interesting point about "having time to do the job", suggesting juggling thus with academia etc...If elected I will stop working as a barrister and do this full time. It will be interesting to see if other candidates are prepared to make a similar commitment in terms of their jobs, business interests etc...Question for all candidates?