Police and Crime Commissioners are letting light into policing. Photo: Getty
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If Labour scraps Police and Crime Commissioners, it will be rowing back on democracy

The Labour Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Northumbria calls on Labour to retain PCCs, or a variant of the position, to allow transparency in policing.

Almost two years since the election of the first Police and Crime Commissioners, it’s a role that has continued to develop and evolve.

Labour has vowed to reform the system following Lord Stevens’ 2013 review of policing. However, there are currently 13 Labour commissioners, in office, with power and budgets, working to deliver services for the benefit of their communities, whose hands-on experience can inform policy development.

Commissioners are the elected voice of the people. Their duty is to consult communities to ascertain what they want from the police, shaping those priorities into a police and crime plan which gives strategic direction to the force. Our control of the local policing budget and our democratic leverage ensures that what the people want does happen. This represents a significant shift of power towards the public. Our "and crime" responsibilities empower us to coordinate local community safety work and elements of the criminal justice process. We will shortly be responsible for commissioning victims' services and we are developing local restorative solutions.

We have renewed focus on neighbourhood policing. These popular teams of police and community support officers, dedicated to serving a specific community, are the bedrock of modern policing, well defined as such by Lord Stevens. They work with the public and with partners to solve problems before they develop into crime or disorder, looking for longer term resolutions that help stability and community safety.

Neighbourhood policing has not only been overwhelmingly positive for communities, but it has helped to model a new kind of police officer. Remote from hierarchical management, they are directly accountable to the local communities with whom they work. They become committed to the public as well as to the police force and the trust they evoke contrasts with the distrust with which the national policing hierarchy is regarded for being too often steeped in their own sectional self-interest. The Hillsborough and Orgreave issues and contemporary concerns such as apparent inaccuracies around the deaths of Jean Charles de Menezes, Ian Tomlinson and Mark Duggan have done immeasurable damage to public trust. Now local police are, for the first time being overseen intrusively at command level by an elected figure and any tendency to put force self-interest over public well-being can be challenged, so that it becomes, at least more difficult for these kind of events to recur.

In the same vein, police complaints have often been dealt with through a prism of institutional defensiveness, which exacerbates grievances and loses the police friends as surely as national scandals do. Labour Commissioners are tackling this with the aim of getting police to admit minor bad behaviour where it has occurred and to trust the public to understand. In Northumbria, 36 per cent of police complaints are resolved within 48 hours by a customer focussed telephone team, based in the Commissioner’s office which has a 96 per cent satisfaction rate. Public involvement, emanating from an elected Commissioner, is breaking down barriers between the police and the communities they serve and restoring trust.

All of this is taking place amidst shrinking budgets and there are further challenges ahead. Police numbers are critically low. Last December saw extra reductions to police budgets to boost the Independent Police Complaints Commission without, so far, any transfer of work. Splitting the probation service to sell part of it off could undermine crime reduction by unsettling Integrated Offender Management. Harsh reductions in legal aid will mean fewer defence lawyers, perhaps heralding a matching return to police officer prosecutions.

In a time of upheaval as well as innovation, Labour Police and Crime Commissioners will continue to navigate pathways to improve policing in their local communities. Whether the role remains or a variant takes over, the current Labour Commissioners are letting light into policing and agree with Lord Stevens that the next Labour government should not row back on democracy.

Vera Baird is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria

Vera Baird QC MP is the Solicitor General
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How to explain Brexit to your kids

It’s not hard. The Brexiteers’ tantrums are a parody of how children behave.

My parents never sat me down for “the politics talk”. I suspect they were too embarrassed. Like many children of my generation, I was left to develop my own ideas about what adults did in private.

We didn’t have the internet and our arms were too short to open most newspapers (scientists were still working on the tabloid-broadsheet hybrid). Hence we picked up news randomly, either by overhearing snippets on the radio while buying sweets in the newsagent’s or by accidentally watching the start of the six o’clock news following the end of Charles In Charge.

By the time I was nine, the same age my eldest child is now, I had unrealistic expectations of politicians and the democratic process. Due to the fact that I had no idea what anyone was talking about, I assumed everyone in the House of Commons was having serious, informed thoughts about the most important issues of the day.

I now know that the real reason I couldn’t understand what anyone was saying was because what had sounded like “roargh roargh [insult] <braying laughter>” really had been “roargh roargh [insult] <braying laughter>” all along. I’d assumed it was a language I had yet to learn, one of the more specialised dialects of Adult-ese. I’d already wasted one vote by the time I realised that Prime Minister’s Questions was basically Jeremy Kyle with posher accents and minus the lie detector tests.

I don’t want my children to make the same mistakes as me. Thankfully, it turns out Brexit Britain is the ideal place to teach your kids how politics really works. Never has there been a time when those stalking the corridors of power were more in tune with the average tantruming toddler. There’s no point in rational argument; you just have to hope that those in power burn themselves out before too much damage is done.

This particular tantrum has of course been building for some time. The dominant rhetoric of the Leave campaign – like that of the Tory party itself – always offered a spoilt child’s view of the world, one in which you are the centre of the universe, depending on no one else for your survival.

When others point out that this isn’t the case – that perhaps you wouldn’t have a home and food on the table if it wasn’t for Mummy or Daddy, or perhaps the UK would not have a strong economy were it not a member of the EU – you simply tell them they’re being mean. You’ll show them! They’re not the boss of you! So you pack your bags and leave.

If you are six, you might get to the corner of your road, realise with disappointment that no one is following you and turn back, hoping no one noticed you were gone. If you are the UK, you hang around for a while, maybe hiding in some bushes, thinking “any minute now they’ll come looking for me.”

But they don’t, so eventually you think “sod ‘em, I’ll go to my mates’. Unfortunately, you cannot get there without Mummy to drive you. This is a problem. But at least you can tell yourself that you were doubly right to leave, since everything that is happening now is Mummy’s fault.

Never in British politics has the panicked outrage of those who know they are making a terrible mistake been so palpable. It reminds me of the time when I was teaching my eldest son to drink from a beaker. He kept spilling small amounts, which caused him so much distress he’d end up pouring the rest of the juice onto the carpet to make it look deliberate. Whenever I tried to stop him, I’d only make him more panicked, thus even more likely to get juice everywhere.

I have since asked him if he remembers why he did this. He says he does not, but I have told him this is what the British government is doing with Brexit. The referendum was the initial spillage; we now have to sit and watch, biting our tongues, in the hope that the “well, anyhow, I totally meant to do that!” response can be averted.

There is little chance of that, though. When my middle son told his older brother he could fly, he quickly backed down on being asked to demonstrate this by jumping from an upstairs window. Liam Fox would have thrown himself headlong, then blamed Project Fear for his broken neck. Or rather, he’d have thrown someone else – one of the millions of people whose lives really will be ruined by Brexit – then tried to argue that the exceptionally bendy necks of UK citizens could be used as one of the “main cards” in negotiations.

The behaviour is beyond childlike; it is a parody of how children behave. When I asked one of my sons to clean his teeth this morning, he called me a “poo head” and said his teeth wouldn’t get decay. He still brushed them, though.

He did not conclude I was some sinister sore loser out to trick him because his teeth are young and white and mine are old and stained. He still has some basic sense that people who ask you to do things you don’t want to do might yet have your best interests at heart, regardless of who is right or wrong. He did not call me a sneering member of the elite trying to override the will of all toothpaste-rejecting British children (to be fair, I think “poo head” may have been meant to capture that, but at least he only called me it once).

Then again, the teeth in my son’s head are his alone. The consequences of neglect would be his to endure. Those stage-managing the Brexit tantrum are insulated from its most devastating consequences. Thus they can hurl insults, stick their fingers in their ears and take more than a little pleasure in the sheer recklessness of it all. It is not just an extended childhood; it is childhood without having to come to terms with the consequences of your own behaviour, because others will suffer them for you.

I want my own children to understand that what they see now is not what politics should be. That there is not some deep, meaningful logic underpinning what the adults in charge are doing. What looks like bitterness, point-scoring and sheer lack of self-control is, more often than not, just that. We have indulged these people too long. Let’s raise a generation with higher expectations of those who will claim to speak on their behalf.

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.