This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
How should PCCs handle questions over their legitimacy?
41 new PCCs have now been elected with significant powers to set budgets, hire & fire Chief Constables and forge the overall direction of the local police service. However, questions have been raised about their legitimacy given the very poor turnout for the elections. How might they handle these questions?
Firstly it is important to say that even if the turnout had been lower (say 8%), each elected PCC would still be the 'legitimate' Police & Crime Commissioner for their area. That is the law and something that I said in my attempt to persuade people (who were considering not voting / spoiling ballot papers) to vote nonetheless either for their preferred or least disliked candidate.
But... whilst they are legitimate, do they have credibility? Will they have real influence?
In my view, whilst voter turnout will remain an issue, especially when the whole statute comes to be assessed in a few years time (and the Electoral Commission may well have something to say before then), I do not believe it will be a day to day issue for the PCCs. What will matter is whether the PCC earns the respect and trust of local communities and builds a solid working relationship with their Chief Constable. This will not depend on the percentage of voters who voted for them, but on their personal, professional and political leadership skills.
Indeed, I would argue that the low voter turnout will prevent them from being too courageous (ie rash & despotic) in their decision making and instead they will be forced to use softer means of power to get their way. I suspect that any PCC who tries exercising the 'I have a mandate for this' line with their Chiefs will carefully sidelined in a 'Yes Minister' kind of way. I could well be wrong, but most of the Chiefs I know are pretty adept at handling politicians who are all bluster and no substance. (And let's not forget that most of the 'manifestos' were remarkably short on substance beyond the anodyne 'cut crime' crowd pleasing statements.)
The wise & skilful PCC will move on from voter turnout pretty darn quickly and begin to shape their influence around superlative leadership and being a very good politician. By that I mean, getting out there, listening to people and learning about the stories that will impact upon the Chief and her/his team. Anecdotes should not direct change (that should still be done by good evidential research) but they can drive change. This is part of the power that PCCs now have. Their other key power will be in asking thumping good questions... but that is for another blog soon.
If I had been elected as a PCC, one of the things I would be doing now, is conducting my own personal power audit: what kinds of power & influence do I have and where do I need to gain more?
And so to answer the question in my title: PCCs should address concerns about their legitimacy by earning credibility and trust through exceptional leadership. We now await to see who will do this well...