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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Early u-turn

The ink is barely dry on the Queen's Speech and already the UK Government are involved in an elaborate u-turn. In this morning's Guardian we are told that the government has abandoned plans to make the police more accountable to local communities through direct elections because of opposition from senior officers, Labour council chiefs and concern that the proposals would politicise forces.

These are genuine concerns though I did express the view back in November that the possible outcome of an election should not be a consideration as to whether to have it or not. My questionmark over the proposals was whether directly elected Police Authorities will make any difference to the way that our communities are policed or even to how the constabulary is run?

Clearly, on the last part of that question the Home Secretary's answer was a resounding 'Yes! but not in the way she would like it'. She is apparently (and rightly) worried that Boris Johnston's intervention in the resignation of Sir Ian Blair as Metropolitan Police Commissioner would be repeated up and down the Country. She is also sensitive to charges of politicisation following the arrest of Damian Green.

What bothers me most about the article is its description of Jacqui Smith's next steps. The paper tells us that she has asked the former home secretary David Blunkett to prepare a report to her on how to achieve a consensus within Labour on how to make the police more accountable. Whatever happened to governing in the national interest and for all the people?

If this becomes an exercise in delivering what is acceptable to the Labour Party rather than what is practical and in the best interests of the Country then Ms. Smith will have politicised and undermined one of the great offices of State. That would be unfortunate to say the least and a disaster for policing in this country.

Personally, I would rather she concentrated on getting more resources to the Police instead of indulging in sideshows such as directly elected Police Authorities and ID cards. It is a lesson that my own party should take as well. The Liberal Democrats are absolutely right to oppose ID cards for a whole host of reasons, but why are we falling for New Labour gimmicks and supporting direct elections? Police Authorities are already comprised of accountable politicians and are answerable to the Government. I hope that we will now jettison that policy as fast as the Home Secretary did.
What about undoing the change made by Michael Howard in the 1990s as Home Secretary when he removed the linkage to the County Councils as the police authorities? Having an oversight by elected representatives to manage the policing in the county (or whatever) seems self evidently sensible.

The only problem is the apparent absolute abhorrence of local government on the part of the central government. It seems to be part of the British state's detestation of elections for any tier below the national one.
While there is some political balance already in our Police Authorities, for example in South Wales Police Authority there are Councillors form all groups,

Cllr Mel Nott, labour from Bridgend

Cllr Tim Davies, Conservative from Cardiff

Cllr Jacqui Gasson, Lib Dem from Cardiff

Cllr Jeff Edwards, Ind. from Merthyr

Cllr Derek Vaughan, Labour from NPT

Cllr John Huish, Plaid from RCT

Cllr Russell Roberts, Labour from RCT

Cllr Bob Lloyd, Labour from Swansea

Cllr Sue Waller, Lib Dem from Swansea

Cllr Gordon Kemp, Conservative from Vale of Glamorgan

In addition to the "independents" that have been chosen to sit on the South Wales Police Authority.

Four Labour, two Conservative, two Lib Dems, One Plaid and one Independent.

This is fairly transparent, except we don't know the policial biasis or party membership of the nine independent members:

John Littlechild, Edward Jones, Anne Able, Helen Roberts, Arjan Ali, Mike Lewis, Graham Bingham, Moawin Bin-Sufyan or Joy Whinney.

I do know that they aren't members of the BNP.

When it comes to the Magistrates benches in South Wales things are far from Transparent.

In Bridgend County, there aren't any Lib Dem members on the Bench, while in Neath Port Talbot County there is only one, Cllr D.K. Davies.

In addition Benches don't have to be politically balanced, and since my request for membership of the Bench in Bridgend under FOI was turned down, there is no way of establishing the Political Makeup of the Bench in Bridgend.

Moawia Bin-Sufyan is a member of the Conservatives


which is pretty naughty for someone who insists on calling themselves independent or party neutral at every turn
I have to agree Peter, spend the money on core essential activites nor fancy notions ( as my old mam would say)
Often this happens when you dont have enough expertise and advice to know what is really needed.
I am not concerned over peoples political leanings as long as they have the best interests of the community and its policing needs, plus the best intentions towards the police needs, to the fore.If they are playing party politics then they should be out .
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