Pay-a-lot elections: police commissioner candidates need loadsamoneyPosted: October 26, 2012
by Pat Dodd Racher, October 26th 2012
What’s so democratic about the looming police and crime commissioner elections? Most people could not afford to stand, so the choice is between members of the national political parties and some well-funded independents.
The list of candidates totals 193 for the 41 police areas in England and Wales outside London. The list is heavily politicised: only the Labour and Conservative parties have a candidate in every area. UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) and the Liberal Democrats are fielding 24 each. Nine are from minor parties, five of them from the English Democrats, who campaign for a devolved English parliament. The independents total just 54.
Big financial barriers face potential candidates. They have to deposit £5,000, repayable only if they secure over 5% of the vote. Independents without the backing of organisations with healthy bank accounts have to find their own campaign expenses. The permitted expenditures are substantial, up to £357,435 in the West Midlands area and £356,204 in Greater Manchester. Even in Dyfed Powys, where I live, candidates can spend up to £72,622.
I don’t know many people who can afford to expend so much money in an attempt to be elected for a three-and-a-half year term and a salary of £65,000 to £100,000 a year. Even if you are motivated by a wish to serve the community, there are other ways of doing it without risking the price of a house – a big house in the most populous police areas.
The police authorities which currently set priorities and budgets for policing in their areas, and which are to disappear when the commissioners are elected, typically have nine local authority councillors and eight independent members, at least one of whom must be a magistrate. Agreed, they are not directly elected but 17 people should have a far wider range of perspectives than just one.
The new commissioners will probably be more male and more white than the police authorities, where 30% of members are female and almost 10% are from ethnic minorities. Fewer than 17% of the commissioner candidates are women. It’s not possible accurately to calculate the proportion of ethnic minority candidates from reading their statements, but I would guess the figure is about 5%. In these respects, the candidate list is a big step backwards.
And will one full-time commissioner be able to do the work of 17 part-time authority members? West Midlands Police reckons that an authority member typically devotes 10 to 12 hours a week to the job. Multiply 12 hours by 17, and you get 204 hours. A single commissioner is not going to work 204 hours a week. A week only has 168 hours, and a full-time commissioner might be able to work 50 or 60 hours – about a quarter of the time devoted by members of a police authority. Some progress!
The Conservative and Labour candidates, and the LibDems and UKIP to some extent, can draw on national party organisations, but in return the parties are going to want their priorities implemented. Indeed, any candidate who receives financial backing will be beholden to their supporters, even if nothing is stated explicitly. Election money will be expected to yield contracts and influence. I don’t see how this is better than the current system.
Here in Dyfed Powys there are only two candidates, Labour and Conservative. I don’t want to vote for a single commissioner, but if you just stay away it looks as though you don’t care. I would like there to be a box on the form for ‘None of the above’, then my vote would mean something. But there isn’t a ‘None of the above’ box, which makes the vote even less representative of electors’ real opinions.
Pay a lot, achieve what? More politicised policing, and the advent of financial backers with their own agendas. Goodnight all.