Friday, December 19, 2008

Are we missing something?

There is a debate, possibly dead for a while, but due to re-emerge if the Conservatives hold firm to the policy, of whether police chiefs should be directly elected by the public. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has canned the idea as it may politicise the police force, the Conservatives claim this is due to the Labour government's reluctance to give up control; but I wondered why should an election politicise the police. Keith Vaz suggests it may give control of the police over to far right groups; but why? Here is my reason for wondering. While we may associate elections with parties and their leaders, that is only political elections. There are a range of elections, student union, trade unions etc, where there may be ideological differences between candidates but these are not shaped on party lines. If an election is run that excludes parties and is outside of party politics would this mean politicisation? Surely many elections are decided simply on who is the best person for the job, one wonders if ideology or personality is key in contests such as that for US President. At a more minor level, student union elections are based on popularity to some extent but also on key qualities for a post; at Bournemouth the communications officer is nearly always from a communication or public relations degree suggesting qualifications are important. So why should anyone question the platforms on which candidates for police chief would stand, would they not promote their record, their vision for a community, offer to redress imbalances, reinforce their role as caring for the community and how they will be accountable? Perhaps if party was less of a factor, and voters were encouraged to think more about who would be a good representative as opposed to how to use a vote tactically to ensure X does not get in (the popular tactic in marginal constituencies) then more people would actually engage in voting. And here is the key thing. Of course no-one would want a police chief to be elected by 20-30% of those they are accountable to; though we seem to accept it as a fait accompli for government. But if people feel their vote counts, that they are motivated to engage in the contest and become attached to candidates then they are far more likely to vote. So there could well result in a non-political, highly engaging contest taking place and voters participating on the basis of trying to get the best person for the job installed. Would that not be the ideal of democracy? If it is, what is the problem?

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