Funny how when I turned 18, the right to vote seemed to be a huge privilege and one I was proud of. I missed voting in the 1992 GE by 2 months but had the opportunity to vote for the first time in the Newbury by-election a year later. It was a privilege which meant I consciously made the symbolic effort to myself of walking to a polling station rather than postal voting or voting by other means.
I've always tried to exercise my right to vote, whether it be a General Election, a local election or even, through very gritted teeth, EU Parliamentary elections. Today though I will break that habit. I will not be partaking in the election of a Police Commissioner. I have shredded my polling card, thus boycotting the process.
Revealingly as politicians' have recently sensed the public discontent about our political processes and lack of accountability, as presciently foreseen by the notorious 1971 FCO 30/1048 document on the consequences of joining the EEC...
...the transfer of major executive responsibilities to the bureaucratic Commission in Brussels will exacerbate popular feeling of alienation from government.....they seek to confer upon us as a consequence ever more voting: devolution, more devolution, the stitch up that was the AV referendum and Cameron's failed policy of English mayoral referendums earlier this year. The right to put a cross on a bit of paper is a tool used by politicians to pretend they believe in democracy so by implication arguing to give power to the people, but in practice it means nothing at all.
It's the reason most unaccountable institutions use voting on such terms as a means of trying to establish legitimacy; obviously the EU Parliament, the Supreme Soviet and there's a very good reason why referendums are banned in Germany. Voting means nothing without being backed up by real power.
And so we come to another fake 'election' - those of PCC candidates. Conservative MP Nick Herbert, who in the Spectator seems to argue that the solution to low turnouts is have another election which will have a low turnout, says:
What proportion of the vote permits [the BBC] to declare any election a failure? Because Parliament didn’t set one.
Hilary Benn was elected to the Commons in a by-election on a turnout of less than 20 per cent. Was he declared to have no standing as an MP? What about the councils that rule with a fraction of the votes of their local electorate? And forgive me if I’ve missed it, but when did the BBC ever question the legitimacy of MEPs (turnout in 1999, 23 per cent), never mind the European Commission?
Yes, declining voter engagement in all elections is a real issue. But as the former President of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Ken Jones, said on Monday, this is a bigger question, a trend which PCC elections can hardly be expected to buck.So then he argues without a sense of irony:
[PPCs] will hold office by will of the people, not the patronage of politicians or the wisdom of an appointments commissionNo it won't, the very likely low turnout will ensure the office is not by the will of the people. Not only that, will it solve; lying cover up or even the Police acting above the law? We all know the answer to that one.
So very few positives to this latest gimmick, but oh boy are there negatives. What we will have in return is a politicisation of the Police force. It's bad enough already, as the case of Damian Green shows, but now it will be legitimate. A point illustrated via Witterings:
“This morning a Labour spokesperson said that while Labour initially objected to the role of Police Commissioner being created, they had decided to enter Labour representatives for the post to enable them to hold the government to account for all the police budget cuts. Great. Not to represent the local people as intended – but to yet again use and abuse a position in order to attack the Coalition. Just what we need Mr. Oborne ? I thought this article may be a wind-up – but the last two sentences suggest otherwise.”Inspector Gadget calls it fantasy politics, and rightly so. No-one needs a degree in history to workout the consequences of politicised police force in times of economic troubles.
How long, one wonders, before a scandal erupts, where a PCC of a certain party persuasion is advised by a government of the same party to lean on 'his' police force whose constables are investigating a corrupt MP of the same party?
It's a disaster waiting to happen.