Standing on a cold corner handing out leaflets for Simon Murphy, the excellent police and crime commissioner candidate for West Mercia, I was more than a little frustrated when several people said to me, ‘I don’t think I’m going to vote – I haven’t heard anything about it’.
‘But we’re here, aren’t we’, I responded with a forced bright smile. I live in a Tory heartland area – where the only active campaigning that I’ve seen is from a small but determined Labour party.
Paradoxically, it may well be the experience and effort of Labour campaigners which helps the government avoid the ignominy of a historically low turnout in the elections on Thursday. The Tories, while claiming that this is the centrepiece of police reform, have gone out of their way to make it a failure in terms of public engagement. No freepost leaflet distribution; caving in to the Lib Dems to have an election in cold and dark November; lacklustre local campaigning and no national enthusiasm about the role. Even Policy Exchange, the rightwing thinktank which developed the idea of commissioners, criticises the government for failing to drum up support. Ministers’ doubt about the policy seeps through their public pronouncements even as they mouth words of support.
The Lib Dems have conceded defeat before a vote has been cast by not even standing candidates in most areas.
However, despite disagreeing with the policy of PCCs and deprecating the lack of enthusiasm from government ministers for their own policy, I am pleased that we are standing in these elections, pleased that we have excellent and active candidates, and hope that we’ll win in even more areas than are predicted.
In government, Labour’s police reform priorities were about increasing the visibility and responsive of policing to local communities through neighbourhood policing and giving victims more voice and more power in the system. This government has put these objectives at risk. Cuts have played a part in downgrading neighbourhood policing, but the issue is not just about funding. While Nick Herbert was police minister, he developed Labour’s crime-mapping ideas to give more information to local people about what was actually happening in their areas and how to influence it. However, since he left government even this work seems to have stalled. The community safety initiatives and partnerships built up over the last 10 years are at risk from local government cuts and a downgrading of the importance of the partnership work of police forces. As I have previously written, Louise Casey has not been replaced in the role of victims commissioner. The government has plans to cut the compensation received by victims by 25 per cent.
Labour’s police and crime commissioners can ensure that policing turns outwards to local communities; they can discover and articulate local priorities; they can ensure that local people are galvanised to help cut crime by acting as witnesses and be kept informed of what happens in the criminal justice system when they do; they can lead a wide coalition on community safety; they can act as a voice for victims of crime, particularly those who haven’t always been listened to such as victims of sexual and domestic abuse and young people. In doing all of these things, they can provide a testbed for Labour’s crime manifesto at the next general election.
Good luck to all Labour candidates on Thursday – and good luck in helping to bring down crime and build confidence once you’re elected.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.