The coalition government will be to blame if the turnout for the first ever Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections is as low as expected.
That’s the view of the front-runner for the job, Labour’s Tony Lloyd.
The long-serving MP for Manchester Central was speaking as four of the five PCC candidates for Greater Manchester came together at a question and answer session with members of the public, ahead of the upcoming elections.
Matt Gallagher (Liberal Democrat), Tony Lloyd (Labour), Michael Winstanley (Conservative) and Steven Woolfe (UK Independence Party) attended the session organised by the Manchester Evening News (M.E.N.) and held at the University of Manchester’s Roscoe building. Roy Warren, an independent candidate, was unable to attend for medical reasons.
The event was chaired by David Ottewell, head of politics at the M.E.N.
PCCs will be elected every four years, set the force budget and aim to form a link between police and public. They will also have the power to appoint and dismiss the chief constable.
The elections are being seen as the biggest shake-up of policing in fifty years and Home Secretary Theresa May told the BBC: “For the first time ever [the police] will have a democratic mandate for the people for the work that they’re doing.”
But the Electoral Reform Society has predicted that only 18.5% of people will vote, which would be the lowest turnout in UK electoral history.
Asked about this issue after the session, Mr. Lloyd said: “The government deserve the biggest blame for the whole thing. They haven’t said why it matters or got across that it could really make a mess of your community.
“Some people have been suggesting boycotts but there will be a police commissioner, so it’s important that people do vote, especially students, or else we’ll get a crap commissioner.”
An August YouGov poll found that only 21 per cent of people think that PCCs will “help the fight against crime” and that only 11 per cent have a good understanding of what they will do.
The same poll found that 61 per cent disapproved of candidates being supported by political parties, but with a £5,000 deposit required to stand in the elections, compared to just £500 for parliamentary elections, some candidates required party support to enter.
Mr. Gallagher, the only candidate with experience working in the police force, said that the Liberal Democrats agreed to fund his deposit to prevent all candidates from having political backgrounds, before it was known that Mr. Warren would stand.
Carole Duggan, the aunt of the 29-year-old man whose death sparked the nationwide riots of summer 2011, was present and challenged the candidates to force all police officers to co-operate fully in any investigations by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).
Most of the candidates stressed the need for transparency in any complaints process, with Mr. Lloyd saying that “it’s good for police officers” since those wrongly accused can prove their innocence.
But Mr. Gallagher warned against forcing officers to co-operate, claiming that doing so could undermine liberty by allowing the government to demand the same of other groups in the future.
Asked about tougher sentencing, all candidates agreed that victims’ needs must be put ahead of those of criminals, with Mr Woolfe claiming: “The pendulum has swung too far so that the victim is no longer the primary concern.”
But he stopped short of agreeing with a proposal for “zero tolerance”, along with Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Lloyd.
Mr. Winstanley though said that “some judges are completely bonkers” and advocated tougher stances on crime as a way of “nipping the problem in the bud”.
The £100,000 salary of the commissioner was also questioned, as one audience member asked whether the candidates would consider donating any of it.
Mr. Gallagher and Mr. Winstanley each pledged around £10,000 a year to community projects, whilst Mr. Woolfe said that he planned to use half the salary to recruit people to help him look at cuts to the budget.
But Mr. Lloyd, who stood down from his £65,000 post as an MP to contest these elections, refused to be drawn into a “bidding war”.
He said: “I won’t enter a public auction here about who will come in as a cut-price commissioner. If we did then you’d get useless people, extremists and nutcases who can afford to do the job for nothing, rather than a commissioner you want.”
The elections will take place on 15th November and the successful candidate will take office on the 22nd.
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