As we approach the elections on Thursday for Police and Crime Commissioner elections, every one of the candidates is involving themselves in the world of politics. By any definition holding to account a chief constable and their operational work on behalf of a large number of voters, making decisions about how they can spend their budget is deeply political. However it is not necessarily party political. It is the involvement of large parties with the ability to simultaneously directly hold 15 or more Chief Constables to account for their work, whilst at the same time being in complete political sympathy or full blown political conflict with the edicts coming out of the Home Office that creates a real risk for the police force and ultimately the rest of society. The governance of the police was previously provided by a mixed group with party political diversity along with a number of people who were nominally at least Independent of any political party. Some were more Independent than others, but these Independents made up nearly 50% of the Police Authority which preceded the PCC role. The days of Orgreave and Hilsborough are now behind us, but the risk of the Government of the day attempting to force police officers to behave in a particular way is not. If the local PCC is politically Independent of the Government of the day, then there is the prospect of scrutiny being applied and the Chief Constable being challenged if he appears to be acquiescing to unreasonable political pressure. If on the other hand the PCC is on one side or the other of whatever the issue is and therefore not Independent then matters could be a great deal more complicated. Even if the PCC represents one of the smaller political parties, there is still a risk that they will attempt to interfere on matters that are related to their own parties policies or indeed that they will seek to get involved in matters that relate to local party members. None of this is good for Policing or indeed for keeping all of us safe.
Perhaps the most damaging are stories such as those from the election campaign of Alison Hernandez who is standing in Devon and Cornwall as the Conservative PCC. This Youtube clip is a piece by Michael Crick of Channel 4. He has been investigating suspected election fraud by the Conservative Party as part of last years General Election. The fraud appears to have taken place on a massive scale, covering 26 constituencies and involving the national party as well as the 26 candidates. One of the election agents from one of the seats in question was Alison Hernandez and she is currently being investigated by Devon and Cornwall Police. The extent to which all of this creates a conflict for Alison and the voters is a matter of local concern. No doubt if that was as far as it went, the greatest risk is that she steps down or is prosecuted for her actions and is forced to step down. However because she is a key member of the Political Party that is running the Home Office, who determine police policy and have the ability to determine resources for policing could put Shaun Sawyer and his Senior Officers in a very difficult position if pressure was applied behind the scenes. Who would apply scrutiny then, if Alison Hernandez is meant to be both the scrutineer and the person under investigation and a senior member of the Conservative Party who are deciding on Policing Policy.
It is clear to me that electing a PCC depends first and foremost in choosing the person best suited to the job. However their will be people eminently qualified to carry out this role whose abilities may be compromised by their party political affiliations. Right now any Conservative who is part of the electoral fraud investigations would be one of those people. No matter how good Alison is (having seen a brief clip of her own sofa conversation on the You Tube piece, she clearly does not get the role in my opinion) she is unsuited to being elected this week.