Why shouldn't policing be political?

Ianblair770422 With Sir Ian Blair's resignation there have been a flurry of accusations - most notably from the Home Secretary - that he was pushed for "political reasons" by the Mayor, and criticisms of policing being a political issue. No doubt this is meant to sound like a condemnation, but is there actually anything wrong with having the involvement of democratically elected representatives in this most crucial of public services?


Last year we had the absurd scene of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police telling the London Assembly that he didn't care what they and the people they represented thought of him, saying: ''If you think you have the power to get rid of me, go on, do it." They passed a vote of no confidence in him - a damning thing to happen - but true to his statement of defiance he stayed stubbornly in his post, a public servant sitting in denial of the public's will.


Voters are the people who foot the bill for the police and are at the sharp end of crime if the police fail, so it is shocking that they have so little control over what policies the police pursue. For Londoners to have any control over who is the Commissioner or what he gets up to, they currently have to go through their limited representation on the Metropolitan Police Authority. Boris has beefed that up by chairing the MPA himself but it's still an unnecessary degree of separation between the police and the people.


When Jacqui Smith makes the criticism that Boris is trying to politicise policing, she is in fact suggesting that this is a public service, paid for by and defending the people, that the people themselves should have no say over. When she says "political", read "democratic".


Of course, policing is not only a massive political issue for the people affected by it and funding it, it is to a certain extent politically managed already. The Whitehall machine pours regulations, initiatives and rules onto police officers around the country and the Home Secretary has the power to appoint Chief Police Officers. For all her moaning about having the Mayor of London involving himself in how the City he runs is policed, she seems to have no compunction about involving the Home Secretary in the same issue, despite her representing not a single London voter (she represents Redditch in Parliament).


In reality, the problem with policing at the moment is that it isn't democratic enough. It's run - to the great frustration of many police officers - off a spreadsheet in Whitehall, based on abstract calculations made by people with no knowledge of the localities or people whose lives they are dealing with.


People unquestionably should have the right to vote for who runs their local police, what their priorities are and how the police should function to achieve their aim of reducing crime. The resistance of people like Jacqui Smith and the members of the Association of Chief Police Officers to this idea has, I suspect, rather more to do with the fact that the public won't vote for their politically correct, form-filling policing model which has failed us so badly. The problem, Jacqui, is not that policing is being politicised, but that it isn't politicised enough.

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