So said one US president, and over five million people did show up to vote for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) on Thursday. In just the county of Kent more than 200,000 people voted, over 114,000 of them for the winning candidate, Independent, Ann Barnes. To the extent that the percentage turnout was lower, the decision of each person voting was more influential. Many of those who did vote were among the most knowledgeable and engaged in their community.
Locally I was disappointed, having campaigned over many months for Craig Mackinlay as the Conservative candidate, particularly since Kent is a county in which all 17 MPs are Conservative.
Moreover, as well as having the party label, Craig Mackinlay showed again that he is an extraordinarily talented campaigner. Craig put across a strong message on drugs and developed a number of innovative ideas, for example to expand the Specials to tackle rural crime, which would benefit Kent if the winning candidate were to take them up.
Craig worked extremely hard, with an excellent Agent in Andrew Kennedy, the very strong support of key players from our own Conservative Association, and the committed support of many Conservative activists from across Kent – if not all Councillors – and together we succeeded in getting Craig’s campaign material to the majority of Kent households.
Quangocracy in retreat
I served as a member of the Kent Police Authority from 2007 to 2011 while Ann Barnes was chairing it. I crossed swords with her on a couple of issues, including being slow to seek savings when the economic downturn struck, but I have considerable respect for her, and was jointly responsible with her for choosing our current highly capable Chief Constable, Ian Learmonth.
My complaint about Ann Barnes has been that she held no mandate for the significant political power she wielded through a police authority which, with one or two exceptions, largely bent to her will. I was also concerned that the Association of Police Authorities, of which she was a leading light, and which now amazingly seeks to reinvent itself as the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, should not use public money to campaign against the policy of a majority of MPs.
Ann Barnes: advertisement for PCCs?
Incongruously, but I suspect amusingly for Nick Herbert, the minister she sought to frustrate, Ann Barnes will now, if she succeeds, find herself becoming an advertisement for the policy which he, I, Douglas Carswell and Daniel Hannan have promoted for the past decade – having a strong elected leader to oversee each of our police forces.
Ann Barnes, both as Chair of the Kent Police Authority and in her campaign to be Kent PCC, often spoke of wanting to ‘keep politics out of policing’. That was and is pure cant. Policing is inherently political. The only choice we have is whether it is accountable.
Sometimes however, Ann Barnes would correct herself and say that she wanted to ‘keep party politics out of policing’. That is a respectable view, albeit not one that I share. Indeed, contrary to the predictions made by Ann Barnes among others, 12 police force areas voted accordingly for an Independent candidate, while 16 voted for Conservative candidates and 13 for Labour candidates.
One of the beauties of democracy is that, as well as that mix, no-one knows whether the number of Independent PCCs will rise or fall in future, not least because it will depend on how they perform. It is the voters who will decide whether party politics helps or hinders them in trying to get the police service they want.
In the past when Ann Barnes spoke about ‘keeping party politics out of policing’ I heard that as her saying that she, rather than party politicians, should decide, despite the fact that we were elected and she was not. This week that changed. Ann Barnes showed she had the courage to put herself and her programme in front of the voters of Kent to let them to decide.
She won. She now has a mandate. I believe that she will be better as a leader of Kent Police because of how Craig Mackinlay tested and challenged her. To win, she had to engage with the public and make some of the sacrifices and compromises inherent to democratic politics, appointing Kent’s leading Liberal Democrat, Peter Carroll, as her campaign manager, and sinking some £50,000 or so of her own money into the campaign. Ann Barnes will certainly be in a stronger position than she ever was as Chair of the police authority to demand her way with the Chief Constable – when appropriate and if they disagree – as well as with the wider criminal justice system.
Breaking the power of ACPO
The biggest difference that elected Police and Crime Commissioners will make is a greater diversity of local approaches to policing. Some will fail, but others will work and spread. Local initiative will begin to replace the suffocating grip of Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) ‘Guidance’.
ACPO will not like it, although its President, Sir Hugh Orde, was unusually conciliatory following the results. However, we now have elected PCCs set to swear their oath and take office. As Paul McKeever of the Police Federation said as votes were counted “they are here for the long term”.
The two key fact in policing now and for the future are:
- Chief Constables, actual and aspirant, will owe their careers, not to their peers, but to elected PCCs who hold a popular mandate, perhaps still tentative today, but one which will broaden and deepen as they develop and stand on their records; and
- the doctrine of police operational independence, which had been exorbitantly applied, is now limited by the Policing Protocol, which I insisted had the proper parliamentary scrutiny needed to bolster PCCs in law should Chief Constables challenge their legitimate oversight.