10 things we should be debating in the police commissioner elections
I don’t have a problem with electing police commissioners. I basically think that if we’re going to have people in any positions of power, they should all be elected. I wouldn’t start with police commissioners, but that’s where we are, so there we go. Many on the left say that police shouldn’t be politicised – which implies they aren’t already. Some say that we might elect fascists. Which implies that we should be more afraid of the people than of the power elites who currently select the police leadership.
Of course, there are huge problems with the way that these elections are being run – I live in Oxford, not the Thames Valley. We should vote as real communities, not huge regions (Thames Valley has 1.3 million people). Deposits vary, but here, it’s £5,000. The spending limit for the campaign is £303,303. Cameron says he wants ordinary people to stand, but ordinary people have been priced out. Worse still, one group of us is officially excluded – a group with a direct interest in the criminal justice system: people, including me who have any criminal conviction are banned from standing.
But in the mixture of on the one hand discussion over whether we should have these elections at all, and on the other, deafening silence about them at all, it feels like we have missed an opportunity to have some proper debates about crime and justice. Perhaps more significantly, given how low turnout is going to be, it feels like a proper populist candidate of the left who organised to turn out their vote could win. But no one anywhere seems to have taken this challenge. So, here is a list of some debates we should have used these elections to have.
1) Why haven’t we jailed more bankers?
The last run on a bank in the UK before Northern Rock was the Bank of Glasgow in 1878. Almost all of its directors were jailed. This time around, almost none of the people personally responsible for the crash have stood in the docks. Why not? Obviously some of the problems were structural. But do we genuinely believe there was no fraud? Can we believe no crimes were committed by those who caused the biggest economic collapse in a century? Why aren’t the police throwing themselves into an investigation of one of the greatest crimes in a generation?
2) Why don’t the police prioritise tax evasion?
Billions of pounds are lost every year in illegal tax dodging. This is a crime, and it costs us all dearly. People are dying because of these cuts, and without this tax dodging, there would be no deficit to justify them. The amount of money illegally stolen from us all by these tax dodgers is one of the biggest crimes in the country. What are the police doing about it?
3) Should we decriminalise drugs?
According to a recent YouGov survey, 45% of people in the UK think soft drugs should either be decriminalised or legalised. The war on drugs has clearly failed – driving up crime rates and destroying lives along the way. The recent global commission on drugs called for massive changes. But when David Nutt suggested that we should consider this stuff in this country, he was sacked. Perhaps it’s time to re-open this debate.
4) How can we tackle racism in the police?
Anyone who thinks the police aren’t systematically racist needs to get out more. We are all aware of how much more likely black Americans are to be locked up than white Americans – in 2010, black Americans were four times more likely to be jailed than white Americans. Black English and Welsh people were seven times more likely. Yet we rarely hear about this shocking racism.
5) What should we do about violence against women?
From street harassment to rape conviction rates, our society needs to take violence against women much more seriously. The role of the police in this is, of course, a big question. But if elections provide a space for public debate then why aren’t we having this debate?
6) Can we stop the police from assaulting protesters?
This has been a huge question over the last couple of years. Ian Tomlinson was murdered at the G20. Students were kettled for hours in the freezing cold, protest groups infiltrated and, in effect, many activists were raped by infiltrators.
7) Why don’t the police enforce the minimum wage?
The first prosecution of an employer for failing to pay minimum wage was in 2007 – roughly a decade after the ‘law’ was passed. Do any of us really believe that no employer failed to pay the legal minimum in that time? Likewise, almost all unpaid internships are illegal. When a company fails to pay an employee the wage they are legally due, it is stealing from them. The total amount people are underpaid in the UK each year must amount to millions. Why aren’t the police arresting those who break this law – who steal huge amounts from those over whom they have power?
8) How did the police fail to protect the vulnerable so much?
The current broohaha around who did or didn’t abuse children at a centre in North Wales has ended up focussing on the BBC. But it misses a key point. It was the police who lied to a victim – who, as far as the best information tells us – told him that the man who abused him was Lord MacAlpine. I don’t know why they did this, but it does highlight a broader issue. The police systematically fail to protect the most vulnerable in society. What can we do about this?
9) After Hillsborough, how can we stop the police lying to us?
The whole Hillsborough scandal isn’t a one of incident. This is how the police behave: they cock up, then do everything they can to cover up. Usually, they get away with this. But this month, surely, after the publication of the Hillsborough report, we should be asking what we can do to stop our police force from systematically misleading us.
10) What should we do about regulation of the internet?
Lawmakers clearly don’t understand the net: people have been locked up for years for posting on Facebook about riots. A man was arrested for sharing a picture of a burning poppy. These are assaults on freedom of speech. How can we prevent the damage of child porn without giving police the power they want to attack freedom of speech?
There were real issues to talk about in these elections. With public debate, we can persuade the public of our case. Our society would benefit from having a space to seriously discuss them. These elections should have been the chance to do just that. Next time around, let’s stop arguing against democracy and try to use the elections to talk about the real issues we face.