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Thoughts on the PCC elections

On the way up to the bus stop today, I passed my local polling station. I did not know that they were running police commissioner elections in my area (really, they were that well advertised).

So I voted. I voted strictly based on the information available to me, namely party identification. There was an independent candidate standing in my area but given the lack of information available to me, I had no way to know whether or not his views lined up with mine. I know that the views of the Conservative and UKIP candidates are unlikely to. Which leaves Labour and Liberal Democrat. So that’s how I voted: first preference Labour, second preference Liberal Democrat. Much as I’m not a fan of political party candidates running the police, if we are to have politicians running the police, I can at least express a preference for candidates who are likely to be somewhat socially progressive over the usual law and order right-wingers.

I don’t like the PCC elections. I think they are kind of stupid and unnecessary. (That I get to vote according to a preferential rather than first-past-the-post voting system in an election I think shouldn’t take place is an amusing aside.) There’s a few reasons for this.

I’m not actually a big fan of voting. (Gasp!) Being able to vote is good, but voting isn’t good because it gives us the best results. Good governance requires information. Perhaps as a result of my apathy, I did not have enough information to make an informed and reasoned vote today. I perhaps failed in my duty as a citizen in a democracy. According to people who have been following the PCC elections, even those who have been judicious in attempting to locate information about candidates have struggled to find such meaningful information. Without such information, citizens are not empowered to make meaningful choices.

I oppose PCC elections because there is a practical limit to the amount of “democratic work” individuals can do. If we ended up like they are in the United States, with people voting for a whole slate of positions, school boards, judges and police chiefs as well as congressmen, senators and presidents, the amount of time we could possibly put in to researching and understanding the views of people who seek those positions will be reduced to the point where we just vote along party lines. I once heard Onora O’Neill quote a wonderful line: “the problem with socialism is that it uses up too many evenings”. That is, the process of participating in collective decision making is time consuming. The process of participating in collective decision making without any actual usable information on which to draw useful distinctions is both time consuming and quite pointless.

Before the last general election, I compiled a list of twenty issues I care about and phrased them as for and against and sent them to all the local candidates. I had no response, except the Liberal Democrat candidate who said he didn’t have time to answer the questions.

I want to like democracy, but I quite like being a rational person and making decisions on the basis of what candidates believe rather than on how nice their tie is. But our current election process makes that kind of rational decision making process fucking hard.

The other reason I oppose the PCC elections is that they represent more localism. Localism has become the current dogma of most of the UK political parties. National—sorry, “Westminster”—government: bad. Local government: good.

Sorry, but bollocks.

If you are a 50-something white upper middle class heterosexual man, localism means you get to run shit in your local area. Great for you. Unfortunately, with this power, there is far less oversight. Localism worked great in the deep South during segregation, right? I’m sure the white dudes all dutifully voted for police chiefs who would turn a blind eye to racially-motivated lynchings. It is one of the duties of national and international governments to rein in the awfulness of local government.

All those creationists on American school boards wanting to weaken science education because of Jesus? Thank localism for that.

Localism doesn’t necessarily ensure the fair treatment of racial, sexual and religious minorities. National governments have usually been ahead of the curve on social policy affecting minority groups. Local government, though, what a great place for crazy bigots, and voting populations who aren’t necessarily going to be sympathetic to the plight of said minorities. The whole thing about minority groups is they don’t do particularly well in democratic elections, what with the whole not-being-in-the-majority thing. The reason the recent victory for marriage equality advocates in Maine, Maryland and Washington was so much of a pleasant surprise was that before that, voters in the United States had routinely opposed same-sex marriage. Imagine telling schoolchildren who have been the victim of bullying that the only way to make the bullying stop is to get the bullies to vote for an anti-bullying law.

Specifically on PCCs, if I am the victim of a crime, why should the treatment I receive be dependent on where I live? If someone steals my wallet at knifepoint, it shouldn’t matter if I’m in London or Leeds as to how it gets handled. And the same is true of more politically sensitive crimes. Let’s say my local community—which is about as conservative, large and small C, as it comes—decides to vote for the UKIP candidate? And then let’s say that I am a victim of, say, a homophobic attack? Am I to be treated differently here than if I was in an area with more enlightened social views? The law is built on equal treatment.

Indeed, this isn’t a matter of special treatment. It’s a matter of consistency. The police ought to deliver a consistent, high-quality service to all people who need it in the country. This shouldn’t be a political matter. I don’t want “Labour policing” and I don’t want “UKIP policing”. I want it so that if someone stabs me as I leave a bar or breaks into my house, they catch the fucker and punish them. Every penny spent on these elections could have been spent on policing.