17 November 2012


There are two big stories about the police and crime commissioner elections: the low turnout, and the success of 12 independents (out of 41 commissioners elected).

The low turnout is hardly surprising – but the success of the independents is, at least on first sight. Other than in local elections in some rural areas where "independent" means "Tory by another name", independents win UK elections only in freakish circumstances.

So why the 12 independent successes in the PCC elections? What's common to all of the independents is the pledge to keep politics out of policing. As any Marxist fule kno, that's a false prospectus, because  policing is intensely political: you can't take the politics out of decisions about how to police industrial disputes, demonstrations, civil disobedience, immigration, terrorism, hate speech, state secrets, drugs, business malpractice, domestic violence, prostitution, deviant sexualities, you name it. The problem, of course, is that most people aren't interested in this sort of stuff most of the time: they just want the cops to stop other people nicking and damaging their personal possessions and behaving in violent and threatening ways towards them. What could be political, let alone party-political about that?

So that's the appeal, and with very low turnout the independents tapped into the common sense of prioritising  stopping the stuff everyone wants stopped, with varying degrees of genuflection to social inclusivity and due process.

But the independents aren't really very independent. There's at least one former Tory and one actual Lib Dem among them, and nearly all have been cops, magistrates or members of police authorities. They are policing insiders to a man and woman – as indeed are most of the Labour and Tory PCCs elected on Thursday – and it's difficult to imagine them playing any roles other than cheerleading for their chief constables or populist showboating. Would any of them have stood up to denounce systemic corruption in the Met, or the Hillsborough cover-up, or Orgreave? If police accountability is the goal, this isn't the way to do it.

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