Philip Johnston, Daily Telegraph, laments the introduction of the Injunction to Prevent Nuisance or Annoyance, or Ipna, which replace the Asbo, another acronym that he maintains masquerades as a law and order policy. Ipna is part of the the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill currently before Parliament and aims to stop conduct that appears to be “capable” of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person. In his article Johnston also disapproves of modern policing methods and refers to the recent review conducted by Lord Stevens. The review by Stevens was carried out at the behest of the Labour Party and unsurprisingly calls for the new positions of Police Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to be scrapped. Another recommendation by Stevens is that some police forces should be merged and was quoted as stating that having 43 police forces is untenable.
As with education and the health service, policing is a national competence and as such is liable to be pulled first one way and then another purely because of political ideology. There is of course another point that has to be raised, yet it is one that is rarely discussed, namely the cost of all this reorganisation and the re-branding that is involved – and just who pays for that, one way or another?
Where public services are concerned it does not take much stretch of the imagination to realise that what may be necessary in one part of the UK does not mean that it is required elsewhere. Where the police are concerned, priorities will obviously differ – in other words, the priorities within a city or town will each differ markedly from each other and also with those needed within a rural community.
Compare and contrast with the situation in Swiztzerland, where there are 26 cantons, 26 police ministers, 26 police chiefs. All Swiss police go through the same basic training resulting in a federal qualification; which means that they can in theory work anywhere in the country. However, each cantonal force sets its own admission rules: there could be different age and height requirements, for example. Incidentally, each canton has its own uniform and police car markings.
Besides each canton having its own independent police forces, in 15 cantons there are both cantonal and municipal forces. For example, the cities of canton Zurich have their own forces separate from that of the canton; and in some others, responsibility for the police has been partly devolved to the communes. The central Swiss canton of Uri, for example, has no big cities: red light districts, organised drug dealing and hooliganism are not major priorities there. On the other hand, it lies on a major transport route: the northern entrances of the Gotthard road and rail tunnels are in its territory. Clearly it needs more traffic police than criminal police whereas an urban border canton, like Basel City, obviously faces quite different problems. It then logically follows that by allowing the police to be organised at cantonal level, each canton is able to put together the police force it needs.
Equating the foregoing to the United Kingdom, the 6 Demands foresees the situation wherein central government would retain responsibility for foreign policy, foreign relations, maritime law, defence and national security, etc. Other matters currently dealt with by central government, such as education, health, law and order would become a matter for local units (be they counties or cities), enshrined in their own constitutions. Thus it would be possible for local people to decide, where the matter of policing is concerned, the level of law and order they wanted, together with the accountability of their police force and its chief.
Returning to the matter of Police Crime Commissioners it thus becomes apparent that the introduction of such is but a sop to the idea of ‘localism’. They are in fact a powerless intermediary where the implementation of law and order is concerned – witness, from this site, that a Police Crime Commissioner cannot tell a constable, even the chief constable, how to use their police powers. From the same source it is noted that Chief Constables must explain to the public (who they are supposed to serve) their actions; but just where – and how – can they be held directly accountable? If the public are to have the level of law and order they wish then why not, indeed, dispense with Police Crime Commissioners and instead directly elect Chief Constables or, if you prefer, Police Chiefs? It is worth noting another example of political hypocrisy, once again highlighting ‘a man for all seasons’. Daniel Hannan, in company with Douglas Carswell, wrote a number of papers on Direct Democracy for the Centre of Policy Studies. One of these was entitled ‘Call in the Sheriff‘ – at which point one can but suggest that readers, having noted the content of that paper, compare same to Hannan lauding the introduction of Police Crime Commissioners. Hypocrisy? Definitely!
Where the idea of localism is concerned, Tip O’Neill – a former US Speaker of the House – once stated that ‘all politics is local’ and because of that it is the simple, mundane and everyday concerns of those who elect their officials that most concern the public. In which case where policing is concerned – as with all other concerns – does not logic then dictate that ‘all politics’ must begin at the local level and proceed upwards?
In which case, as with so much that affects our daily lives but especially where policing is concerned, let us have true localism – and not the faux localism currently allowed us by the political class.