Friday, 9 September 2011

New Sherriff’s in town

Posted on This is My Truth on 9 September

There can be little doubt that this is a radical Government.

And one of its most radical innovations is almost upon us, and yet there has been very little debate in Wales about how it is going to work in practice.

In a little over a year’s time we are going to elect a Police Commissioner to oversee each ofWales’ four police forces. Each will have the power to hire and fire Chief Constables. But equally significant will be the considerable informal power that they will exert. Democratic mandates being what they are, the Commissioners will become significant players on the Welsh political scene. They will undoubtedly want to shape the communities they serve as well as influencing the national debate.

There has, inevitably, been strong opposition to the move by the Police Federation who fear it will lead to the politicization of the police force – a point reinforced by the existing Police Authorities and the Welsh Chief Constables who do not wish to change the current arrangements. The most effective opposition has come from Lib Dem peers. But rather than force the issue this week they settled for a delay in the elections. Rather than being held on the same day as next May’s local elections as planned, they will now take place in November 2012. Once Parliament rubber stamps the deal the planning can begin in earnest.

The picture is slightly complicated in Wales by the Assembly’s opposition to the abolition of Police Authorities. 9 of the 17 members of each Police Authority are currently nominated by local councils, and as local government is a devolved area the Home Office had to ask AMs for their consent to alter the scrutiny arrangements. Much to the chagrin of Whitehall, AMs were not compliant. Heads are still being scratched as how to deal with the relationship between local councils and the new Commissioners, but at least one Welsh Police Authority has started preparing for the transition
So who might these Commissioners be? Though, as I understand it, thinking in the political parties inWalesis at an early stage, it seems likely that there will be party candidates in each of the four Welsh police forces. As theSouth Walesand Gwent Police forces cover areas where Labour is the strongest, it is a reasonable working assumption that the party will be in with a good chance of getting its candidates elected in the most populous areas. Dyfed Powys and North Wales police areas may prove to be more fluid affairs, with an independent standing a decent chance in westWalesat least.

But as criminal justice is a subject not devolved there has been little thinking within the parties inWales– in policy terms at least – about policing issues. And are there enough quality candidates to match the high profile responsibilities of the Commissioners? These are big jobs and will require big personalities to fill them.

Who is there? I wouldn’t be surprised if Russell Goodway stepped forward. Perhaps Nick Bourne would have a reasonable chance in Dyfed Powys? Is Jeff Jones tempted to stand as an independent? I daresay there’ll be a few local government figures who will want a shot, and what about Lembit Opik now that he’s lost out inLondon(where the Mayor is also the Police Commissioner), might he throw his hat in the ring? And who knows which figures from outside politics might be attracted by this powerful role. Is Richard Brunstrom back from his sailing holiday?

It is a tantalising prospect. I tend to agree with Jeff Jones that “the reaction of the left to the idea of the directly elected police commissioner has also been pretty pathetic”. I suspect the dynamic that the elections will create will not only oxygenise Welsh politics, but help shape it. After all, once the genie is released from the bottle you can’t put him back in.

1 comment:

Oliver B said...

Pathetic reaction of the left. Quelle surprise. Rather than try to formulate an original (and genuine 'left' response) they argue within the framework as set by the right.

I've an inherent distaste for the increasing, if inevitable, politicisation of the police. Increased accountability has nothing to do with it: it's a shift/abandonment of responsibility.

First time I've found your blog and I like it - duly Google Readered!