Monday, 12 November 2012

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

You decide ...
Well this is probably a first, me using my almost long-forgotten schoolboy Latin. So, far from being of no use as I would continually harangue Mr Moore (my Latin master), it has come in handy this week. In essence, and at the risk of being corrected by pedants and Latin scholars, "who will watch the watchmen?".

Essentially the current administration of Eton educated Latin scholars has asked this question and come to the conclusion that we, the plebian proletariat, should decide who should watch the watchmen, which is why we are all expected to troop off to the polling station this Thursday (November 15th) to cast our ballots to elect our own Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC)... 37 of them across England and 4 in Wales.

Some may say that this will make the police more accountable and will further democratise one of our public services, namely the police, as unelected Police Authorities will be replaced by a PCC, Others will argue that we run the risk of further politicising the police and their activities and replace a committee of well informed, well intentioned Police Authority members with great experience and breadth of knowledge of crime and how it affects our respective areas with a PCC who doesn't have to have any experience of policing as a prerequisite of candidacy. Whichever view you subscribe to, these elections are upon us and it behoves us in the pub trade to find out who our local candidates are, what they are promising in their election manifestos and consider what will happen to local policing under their authority. 

The government assures us PCCs will have no operational control of our police forces especially in terms of where the diminishing resource of front-line officers will be deployed and what the priorities of those officers will be in the execution of their duties. My fear, and this is a fear shared by many discussing this issue in the media, is that they will; if not by the very dint of being able to hire and fire Chief Constables and oversee police budgets. One can easily imagine a PCC suggesting a Chief Constable immediately puts resources to a perceived problem that the PCC has become exercised about and the Chief Constable resisting this instruction. Result? The PCC sacks the Chief Constable and replaces that officer with one that will do their bidding. Far-fetched? Not really, the Mayor of London has for many years been London's PCC and the current incumbent has already sacked one Metropolitan Police Commissioner... Sir Ian Blair

If you recall Sir Ian's three and a half years in post were plagued by questions about his judgement, leadership credentials and 'politically correct' style of policing. His last months in office were bogged down in unprecedented controversy and in-fighting after he was accused of racism by a series of ethnic minority officers, including the country's top Asian policeman Tarique Ghaffur. It resulted in the upper ranks of the Met being plunged into a virtual state of paralysis, with officers regarding Sir Ian as a lame duck chief no longer in charge of his force. He was forced to eventually resign after a bitter (and very public) showdown with the Tory Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who said he had no confidence in him, the first time in modern history a Met Commissioner has been as good as sacked.

Is this a scenario we want played out across the country? Well, in some respects, it's too late, the change is upon us, but there is still just a little time to influence the choice of whom we are all going to get. So find out what your local candidate is proposing, think about how it's going to affect your business and your customers and above all make sure you vote. Despite the old anarchist graffito of "It doesn't matter who you vote for, they always get in" ... it does matter and if you get an anti-pub commissioner elected in your area you'll soon know about it. You think late night levies will remain the province of city and town centre pubs only? You think that pub closure orders by the police won't be used by hysterical PCCs in response to health lobbyists and neoprohibitionists? You think that scarce resources won't be deployed only in areas where the most votes for the PCC were cast (or come re-election time might be cast)?

We get precious few opportunities to exercise our democratic right in this country and it would be a shame to squander this one ... if nothing else it'll get you out of the pub for half an hour and who knows you might get a PCC that understands the invaluable role that pubs play in the social cohesion of the communities that both they and the police serve.

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