Wednesday, 14 November 2012

On why I'm not voting for a PCC

The PCC's elected tomorrow, across the country, will replace county-level Police Authorities, which, in Sussex, was made up of over 20 appointed people, some of them elected councillors, and some appointed for specific expertise. Whilst far from perfect, the authority ensured a broader spectrum of backgrounds, both political and geographical. 

As with all elections, only those with the backing of a political party have the capacity, financially and labour-wise to be successful. It cost £5,000 to enter the race as a candidate, excluding the vast majority of people I know who rarely have any spare money. Certainly excludes people like me on low income relying on expensive rented accommodation.  It's as if the corn laws (or the suffragettes) never happened.

Policing is political. I want there to be an open debate about the merits of punishment vs restorative justice. About how we prioritise a packed and diverse agenda including hate crime, domestic violence, property law. I want to see a wider debate that highlights the acute issues of people trafficking, fraud, tax avoidance, and more distant crimes, that few of us experience, and how they should be balanced with more widespread low level issues of anti-social behaviour. We need to decide whether young people on the street corner are a problem or fully valid members of our society with the same human rights the rest of us expect.

However, political parties do very little to improve the dialogue surrounding such issues. They go for what their analysts have advised them are vote-winners, a rather reductionist approach of categorising citizens into demographic cells, and prioritising the supposed demands of the group deemed most likely to vote. (Read home-owning, older people).
The choice of candidate by a political party is far from fair. At best, local party executives (Committed party reps, often elected unopposed, with time to give up freely in the evenings. Read as male, educated & outspoken) will screen potential candidates and put it to a vote of the local party members. At worst, the candidates from major parties will have been decided by a central committee based purely on presumed, guestimated public appeal. The level of campaigning required (and expected) from a candidate from a political party is far beyond the abilities of anyone in a full time job or with caring responsibilities. Has anyone seen any job-share candidates? 

The crime and safety issues of a town like Brighton with a thriving night-time economy, will differ from those of seaside towns other like Hastings, let alone the Wealden district and rural agricultural areas. How can one person hope to justly represent all of those areas? What happens when a seaside town demands more staffing and budget than a rural population of the same size? Or when a rural area needs to purchase specific equipment not understood by us city-folk?
How will women (because, although the most likely candidate in Sussex is a woman, she is the only woman out of 5 candidates) be represented? Or ethnic minorities? Or care leavers? Or young people? Or Travellers, those in temporary accommodation, and casual employment? How will the election do anything for those already so marginalised by the structural inequalities of our economy and so called democracy?

And finally, on a less important, but still uneasy matter, why will this one figurehead, elected for popularity not expertise, be paid in the region of £100,000? Is that really what we want our tax spent on when cuts are falling all around us in social care, education, health, youth service, refuge places, homelessness services, and welfare benefits?

So, tomorrow, I will got to the little hall, where in previous years I have stood, from 7am sporting a party rosette, this time to write a summary of the above on my ballot paper, rendering it void. I hope I can write small enough!

Here are a couple of sites with some more information:

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