Saturday, July 26, 2008

Labour Calls For Local Election Of Police Chiefs In The UK

Hell may well be freezing over. Just as I wrote on the decline in law and order in Britain due to a perfect socialist storm, the Labour Party up and publishes a proposal to devolve power to localities to elect their own police leadership. That's the equivallent in the U.S. of Nancy Pelosi coming out for offshore drilling and Harry Reid endorsing free trade agreements.

At any rate, in addition, Labour plans to end most national policing targets and cut the mountains of red tape that currently ham-string local policing. While this still leaves the insidious problem of a breakdown in courts and punishment, it may well work a sea change to policing in Britain. Amazingly, though, many "conservatives," among them Mellanie Phillips, opposed this change.

The proposals are contained in a Home Office document, the Policing Green Paper. It is long and dense, taking four times the words to say what is needed. That said, it actually appears to be a coherent plan that oculd work. Coming from the Labour Party - you could knock me other with a stick.

The plan calls for the locality to elect its police leadership who then must work within the regulatory framework set up by the Home Office and under the authority of the Home Office. This may or may not be problematic, depending on how steep a regulatory burden the Home Office retains and how much control they still try to wield, neither of which were clearly answered in the Green Paper.

An interesting point of the plan is to require regular, published inspections of the local police by a national Inspector General. This would provide information to the locals from a neutral third party and would provide a strong motivation to maintain standards. The plan also provides for the Home Office, at its discretion, to remove elected police officials if it becomes apparent that there is corruption or deeply substandard performace in any locality.

Interestingly enough, opposition to the plan is coming not only from Labour, but also from some well-known Conservatives. Mellanie Phillips commented on the proposed changes approximately a week ago in her blog, arguing strenuously against these changes. Her initial criticism was that allowing local elections of police would present a "very real danger of extremists and single issue pressure groups targeting these elections for their own ends."

The fundamental purpose of democracy is to give people a say in how they are governed at every level. It means trusting people to make their own decisions - a bedrock priniciple of conservativism - and locals are certainly in the best position to adjudge who they wish to run their local policing. If they make a mistake, well, that is why there are elections. It will, in the long run, mean policing that is far more responsive to the local communities.

That said, Britain does have a real problem with extremism. It is the problem of "two Britains" where there are areas in Britain that appear to have been directly transplanted from the rural hinterlands of Pakistan. Allowing elections in areas that have come to be dominated by radical Islamists is a double edge sword. Nonetheless, that is not a reason to deny local elections, nor is it a reason to assume even in these areas that the person elected by secret ballot would be problematic. Besides, the plan set forth in the Green Paper strikes the appropriate balance, maintaining the right of the government to step in if their is a corrupt police administration.

Beyond this particular objection by Ms. Phillips, whom I assume is indicative of those conservatives who likewise object, her further objections are simply non-sensical.

The independence of the police is crucial to maintaining Britain’s dispassionate tradition of law and order. The fact that that independence has been catastrophically eroded through control by central government does not mean that the remedy is to replace such control by other kinds of political interference.

. . . But it is a mistake to think that the danger of politicisation resides only in Whitehall. Elections offer the means for any number of obsessives, ideologues or fanatics to seize the reins of power. That’s bad enough when it comes to elected bodies themselves but when applied to the police it is a potential disaster.

. . . What’s broken in Britain is the culture and trade-craft of policing. It’s that culture which has to be repaired and restored. For sure, the first step must be to remove the means of political control from Whitehall. But then the police have to be taught, persuaded, cajoled, shamed -- whatever -- into rediscovering their lost professional ethic. And for that to happen their independence is vital. . . . But that’s what has to be done. Delivering the police from the Whitehall frying-pan to the fire of local extremists or other obsessives is most certainly not the answer

Ms. Phillips seems to be confused. There is always going to be some political entity in ultimate authority over the police in a democratic society. The only question is who will be that authority. There is no real option other than central control or local elections that will, directly or indirectly result in the choice of police leadership. There is a vast spectrum in between those two points where the government still sets the boundaries and mainatins some regulatory control. That is what is set out in the Green Paper. Britain has had the experiment in central contol now for decades - and it is failing, not catastrophically yet, but as I articluated here, the system is clearly broken. A significant change is needed.

Ms. Phillips also shows a troubling and fundamental distrust in democracy - a trait that shows up with uncomfortable regularity in many "conservatives" across the pond. That said, what I have read in the Green Paper suggests that Labour may actually have developed a workable plan that will be good for Britain. I would suggest to those conservatives who think otherwise that they actually sit down and read the Green Paper before criticizing it on the grounds that it provides too much democracy.

My hats off to Labour. If they are able to keep their statist tendencies at bay, they may have found at least a partial solution to Britain's policing problem. Now they need to work on the punishment side of the house.


Scott said...

Very interesting post. There is an undercurrent of discontent in the UK which is likely growing, but it has interesting aspects.

While in the UK last year, I watched a television talk show. The premise of the show was whether the government should be allowed to run the country, or whether the nation should be given over to the "white van man."

among other sites."

The premise was that the WVM was more capable of running the nation than politicians, particularly Labour. As, indeed, they are.

The show interviewed people from the audience and took calls. The response was overwhelming "Yes" to the WVM. Kick out the foreigners. Bring back hanging. I mean, really reactionary stuff from the common folk.

Was the show truly representative of English frustration? Maybe more representative that Oprah is of the US. What was most interesting to me was the fact that the show was done almost tongue-in-cheek, but the audience was pretty darned serious. Kinda hit a nerve, you might say.

I read your blog multiple times daily. (yes, I have no life). Don't know your total readership, but based on the comments, it seems less than is deserved. Perhaps it the slow load time, don't know, but the site is thoughtful, and well done.

GW said...

Your perception tracks with my own observations of what is going on in Britain. Their is a huge gulf between the chattering class and the average person. God help the chattering class when enough of the average Brit decides they do not like socialism, multiculturalism and unfettered immigration jammed down their throats anymore.

Thank you for reading and your kind comments on the blog. Will have to see what I can do about load times. Is it that bad?