Tuesday, 28 August 2012

FLAWS .....

Many people – not just political opponents – have asked why the Labour Party, having opposed the creation of the Police and Crime Commissioner job, is now working full on to ensure that Labour candidates are elected.

It’s a fair question.

The simple answer is that our supporters and members are unwilling to give other political parties a free ride to positions of local influence and power over issues that matter to everyone.

We’d have preferred the estimated £100m cost of the changes go to fund 3000 police officers.

But there’s more to it than that.

Laws and regulations to bring in elected Commissioners for Police and Crime are flawed and they’re beginning to show.

Some were clear from the outset. Holding an election in the middle of November, rather than early May - when regular local elections take place – will, predictably, mean fewer people voting. It exposes as hollow Conservative claims to champion localism that they opted to have an election when dark winter days can be expected to reduce turnout.


Elections are about choice – that’s why candidates in UK parliament and European elections have an election leaflet setting out their policies delivered free to each household. Yet despite having a local electorate many times greater than any MP, this will not apply to Police and Crime Commissioners.

In many areas, people with the chance to read policy leaflets from all candidates standing in their area may be the lucky few.

The Coalition says it wants to make the priorities and costs of policing and crime more accountable to the public in each locality.  Yet they’re content to sacrifice electors entitlement to make an informed choice.

 At the same time – if turnout is low – they’ve weakened the mandate that anyone elected to represent local people needs.


….and more flaws

Three would-be Police and Crime Commissioners have already stood down, exposing once again how the Coalition fails to think through and implement their plans competently.

Falklands hero and former Welsh guardsman, Simon Weston withdrew when it emerged that a criminal conviction – a £30 fine he received as a 14 year old for being a passenger in a stolen car could disbar him.  He has consistently claimed that he didn’t know the car was stolen at the time but was advised to plead guilty.

Bob Ashford who had Whitehall security clearance and has worked as a director of the Youth Justice Board for 10 years has withdrawn after being told that two fines (of £2 and 10 shillings) he received for trespassing and possession of an offensive weapon as a 13 year old, mean he’s disqualified. He claims he never touched the air rifle which belonged to the boys he was with, was interviewed without his parents present and, again, was later advised to plead guilty in court.

 In 1965, Alan Charles was given a year’s conditional discharge for a non-violent crime as a 14 year old.  He’s the Vice-Chair of Derbyshire Police Authority.  He was advised he was disbarred to stand for election - but has subsequently been reinstated as a candidate.

Regardless of their politics, all are able, high quality candidates, with strong track records of public service and good prospects of success. In Simon Weston’s case it was ‘getting into bother’ that directly led to him joining the Welsh Guards as a 16 year old and serving his country in combat.

Then the Home Office confirmed that a juvenile conviction for imprisonable offences – nearly 50 years ago - bars people from becoming a police and crime commissioner.
People who were not imprisoned yet now they won’t even make the starting line – sad, unnecessary and discouraging.

Sadder still is what this says about the attitude of many legislators – across all parties - to young people about crime and rehabilitation.

These three people are living proof that perhaps a shaky start in life doesn’t have to lead to a life of crime. They’re three people whose personal experience and insights on the troubled years of teenagers offers immense value in helping youngsters to flourish.

Despite successfully turning around their circumstances and contributing, as volunteers, to improving the lives of their fellows, they’re still labelled as unworthy for public office.

That’s disgraceful.

We need a criminal justice system with institutions and policies that support and encourage what these 3 former candidates have done with their lives - not pointless lifelong penalties.

To help bring that about is just one reason I’m offering myself as a candidate.


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