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Police Commissioners: in a world of his own

Richard North, 18/11/2012  


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So, after the actual expenditure of £75 million in the biggest electoral farce in history, we end up with Labour's Mark Burns-Williamson as police commissioner for West Yorkshire, a man who polled 114,736 first preference votes from an electorate of just over 1.6 million, giving him an effective mandate of 7.1 percent.

What makes this worse is that Burns-Williamson was already a member for 13 years of the county's police authority which he now replaces. Thus he moves up to get 100,000+  a year for doing something he was already doing, all on the basis of a mandate from less than one fifteenth of the electorate.

The magnanimous winner, however, managed to spare a little time to be "critical" of the government over how the elections had been held. It was this, in his view, resulted in a low turnout. But, he says, "It is now up to me and the other 40 police and crime commissioners elected today to establish themselves and legitimise this post by listening to everyone who relies on their local police force".

Booker, however, puts this low-grade apparatchik in his place, pointing out that it wasn't government incompetence the kept people at home – or brought them out to spoil their votes (8,000 of them, including myself, in West Yorkshire).

Nor indeed was it "apathy", which is the favourite meme of the BBC which brought in what amounted to a voters' strike, but – as Booker tells it – contempt for the entire process.

Certainly, high in my mind was the continued fatuity of holding elections in such a vast area where there is clearly no single community of interest that could be regarded as a demos. Nor does the process confer any specific power to the people. It merely places an expensive official in place instead of a committee, on the basis of a laughable and wholly unrepresentative mandate.

Burns-Williamson, though., is going to prove even less suitable for the office if he actually believes in the foolish notion that he is dealing with a local police force. He will be deciding policing priorities over an area of 800 square miles, with a population of 2.2 million, containing five metropolitan districts and including the cities of Bradford, Leeds, Huddersfield, Halifax and Wakefield, with a combined spend of over £400 million.

However, says Booker, with the election of 12 non-party commissioners, Thursday was the day when, more clearly than ever, we showed the political class, which for so long has treated us with such contempt, that our only response is to reciprocate. That Burns-Williamson thinks he can now "legitimise" the post just goes to show how detached from reality our political class has become.

How we re-establish democratic control over that class, which rules our lives as surely as if we lived in a one-party state, though, is one of the greatest political challenges of our age, Booker says. And that is where the Harrogate Agenda comes in. While the apparatchiks play, we are quietly building our revolution.

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