Dispelling the myth of “unelected and invisible” police authorities

Amongst the media coverage of the PCC elections, both in 2012 and last week’s by-election in the West Midlands the Government has again trumpeted it’s “unelected and invisible police authorities” line in defence of the indefensible reform.

Police Authorities

First, some facts. Police authorities in England and Wales were;

  • Comprised of seventeen members
  • 9 were elected representatives of the local authority (i.e. councillors voted in by the electorate, hardly undemocratic). Those 9 members would also be reflective of the political make up of the authority, reflecting the vote share of the parties, a further acknowledgement of the will of the people.
  • At least 3 other members were local magistrates (i.e. people we already trust to pass judgement in our courts, and as such have a good handle on the justice system itself) appointed for fixed terms of four years.
  • The remaining five members (if there weren’t more than 3 magistrates) would be elected by the police authority itself for fixed terms of four years.

A fraction over half of the police authority were elected, then. Not only that, but the political make up was reflective of actual votes cast in the actual county council elections.

Clearly, the rest of the police authority was ripe for reform, but replacing them with a single person elected on a tiny proportion of the electorate’s say so is not an improvement.

West Midlands

Let’s look at the West Midlands in particular.

Note that West Midlands Police Authority didn’t follow the make-up outlined above exactly, from what information I could find (given their website is now gone), but did resemble it. This may be that Wikipedia is out of date, or it could be that the authority was changed as part of the move towards PCCs. I’d appreciate any clarifying information on that, if you have it.

Of the 14 members of West Midlands Police Authority, 7 were county councillors.

As the above shows, the locally elected councillors serving on the police authority commanded much more public support than either of the West Midland’s PCCs have done.

We can’t accurately get an overall turnout but every single turnout for each candidate is miles higher than the recent (and previous) PCC election for the West Midlands. I include vote share above for completeness rather than comparison, as the PCC elections use a different electoral systems that requires the victor to gain over 50% from a “run-off”.

Unelected Parliament?

Half of the police authority was elected, and half not. If this is the basis of the Governments dismissal of police authorities, it would be yet another shameful show of hypocrisy. Our Parliament is comprised of two houses: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The former contains our 650 directly-elected MPs and the latter has 850 unelected Lords, many of whom are party donors. Just this simple fact arguably makes our very Parliament less democratic than the police authorities were.

Deceit

So while the police authorities could have been more democratic, they were certainly not the “unelected and invisible” authorities the Government’s deceitful rhetoric claimed. It turns out, as the above turnout figures show, that PCCs are less democratically accountable than the police authorities ever were.

We should abolish the democratic abomination now.

Restoration, or renovation

Restoring the police authorities as they were is clearly not an option – they had issues. But here’s some ideas that would all be far more representative and accountable than the Police and Crime Commissioners;

  • Simply remove the non-elected members
  • Replace the non-elected members with a citizens panel (randomly-selected citizens panels have been shown to be reflective of the population in many cases)
  • Have the members selected from local councillors based on proportional shares of the vote at the last local council elections
  • Replace the entire membership with a citizens panel.

Perhaps some of those would be good. At the moment, almost anything is better than Police and Crime Commissioners.

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