Monday, 1 December 2008

Democracy in action?

I have a fairly open mind at this stage about the suggestion of replacing the current police authority set-up with directly-elected authorities. In principle, electing people to the authorities seems to me to be preferable to appointing them behind closed doors, even if many of the people appointed have themselves already been through an election to become local councillors. To be worthwhile, however, the police authorities would need to have a real degree of control over policing, and not just be rubber-stamps for whatever the Home Office decides.

I'm not convinced that the reasons given by opponents of the idea at the weekend stand up terribly well, though.

I'm reluctant to disagree with a councillor from my own party, but I simply can't go along with Lindsay's argument that we shouldn't make this change because there is a danger that extremists could end up serving on police authorities. It's true, of course, and most of us would not welcome such an outcome – but it sounds a little bit like arguing that we shouldn't hold elections because the turnout might be low and the wrong people might win them.

It was the comments of the WLGA leader, John Davies, which seemed to me to be particularly lacking in validity. He expressed concern that the police authorities and local authorities might end up working to different political agendas – conveniently ignoring the fact that Dyfed-Powys (his and my home force) covers the area of four different counties, so there is no way that they can currently be guaranteed to be following the same agenda anyway.

He also argues that this would add another level of "unnecessary and extremely costly" bureaucracy. I'm really not sure how replacing nominees with elected members either adds another level or needs to cost any more.

I suspect that Cllr Davies is actually more concerned about losing part of his personal power, however. In Pembrokeshire, the county council's 'Independent' members of the police authority are not elected by the council, but are in the gift of the Leader of the council – who has a total of 34 paid posts to which he can appoint his councillors. The Leader is none other than the very same Cllr John Davies. And I'm sure that he weighed things up very carefully before appointing himself as one of the county council's representatives on the Police Authority.

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