Analysing PCCs at the two-year mark. Photo: Getty
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After two years of Police and Crime Commissioners, we must assess their democratic value

As we hit the two-year mark of the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners, it’s time to look forward and assess what needs to be done to improve democratic governance in policing.

“One year on: warts and all”: this was how the Home Secretary, Theresa May, chose to entitle her speech on the first anniversary of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs). Clearly, even she had to admit that things weren’t going as well as she hoped. As we hit the two-year mark, problems remain about her flagship reform and so it’s time to look forward to the future, to assess what needs to be done to improve democratic governance in policing.  

Over the past two years we have seen PCCs, from across the political spectrum, try to make the most of their position. Indeed, we have borne witness to many innovative projects led by them. Northumbria’s Vera Baird has led impressive action in order to combat domestic violence, while in Surrey, Kevin Hurley is ensuring collaboration between blue light emergency services. There is a real focus on mental health in Greater Manchester, where Tony Lloyd is pushing the agenda. However, despite these and many more examples of good work, the system is flawed.

The independent Stevens Commission on policing, released a year ago, called the creation of PCCs a "failed experiment". Reflecting on the first year of PCCs Stevens made it clear that the problems with the system were not merely "teething troubles" but that the model is systematically flawed and "should be discontinued". We agree with his conclusions for three reasons. First, the rule of law. The police must be accountable to the public through elected representatives but day-to-day operational independence of the police should never be compromised.

Second, democratic legitimacy. The initial election in November 2012 was run without any major publicity push, resulting in a desultory turnout of just under 15 per cent, which even May admitted was "disappointing". But worse still, when the Home Office provided information leaflets to each home in the West Midlands for this August’s by-election, turnout fell, only managing to crack the 10 per cent mark. The election cost almost £4m. Despite claims of democratic empowerment, the PCC system has not fulfilled its main objective, which May claimed would be bringing a "strong democratic mandate" to policing. There is nothing "strong" about 15 per cent.

Third, there have been too many scandals ranging from cronyism, in appointments to a system that did not allow for Shaun Wright to be recalled in Rotherham in spite of calls from the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Wright eventually stood down when it was made clear that his position was untenable.

Looking to the future, with police reeling from some of the most severe cuts to public spending threatening the loss of a staggering 68,000 officers and staff, it makes it all the more difficult to justify spending millions on the maintenance of the office and the cost of the elections. The next set of elections alone will cost at least £50m. 

Even the Chancellor recently sought to overrule the Home Secretary by announcing that he intends to abolish the position of PCC in Greater Manchester, instead rolling the responsibilities into a Mayoral position. Even behind the closed doors of Cabinet, we now know that there is little support for May’s misguided policy.

Let me be clear, however, our intention is not driven by criticism that I level at any individual PCC. The biggest problem with PCCs is the premise on which they are based. Of course, the police must be held to account.  However, creating a position at considerable expense which has proved to be problematic and which the public never called for has led to a lacklustre response.

Instead, Labour will devolve police accountability right down to the neighbourhood level. Through this, elected councillors and neighbourhood commanders will be accountable to the public, with new statutory underpinning for public meetings, consulting on local plans and even deciding who the local police unit commander should be.

At force level, budget setting and holding the Chief Constable to account will be carried out by the Police Governing Body. The Body will comprise of leaders in local government across that police force area, as well as lay members and third sector representatives. Victims, the probation service, the criminal justice system, the health service should all have their voice heard on the board.  Labour is currently consulting on other aspects of our proposals including the potential of the appointment by the Body of a strong Chair, similar to chairs of NHS trusts.

The principle of democracy and democratic accountability is paramount. As Lord Stevens said, “there must be no retreat from the idea of giving people a voice in how they are policed.” And there must be no return to old style Police Authorities. However, it is clear that May’s flagship reform is floundering. These last two years have been two years too many; the Government has wasted time and money pursuing a flawed policy. What we now need is fundamental reform, which is exactly what Labour is proposing. Accountability rooted in the new democratic settlement of devolution, with locally elected representatives holding the police to account.

Jack Dromey MP is the shadow minister for policing 

Jack Dromey is shadow policing minister.

Getty.
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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.