It is very rewarding listening to politicians inveigh against democracy, as many of them did yesterday when Theresa May announced to the House her proposals to make the police accountable to elected commissioners. This said Caroline Lucas, Parliament’s token Green, could lead to police officers being chosen not for their ability but for their party allegiance. It is true that there are probably not a lot of Green policemen, so Ms Lucas might have a biodegradable axe to grind, but for pity’s sake, we have a House of Commons full of people making laws chosen not for their ability but for their party allegiance. Why should the concept applied to those charged with the lesser task of enforcing those laws be so outrageous?

The answer so far as Alan Johnson is concerned, the Shadow Home Secretary,  is that he never thought of it when in power, or, if he did, was probably too lazy to do anything about it during the three and a half hours or so a day he used to turn up at the Home Office. If you are a democrat there are simply no good arguments against electing police commissioners, or fire chiefs or park keepers or swimming pool attendants for that matter.  Of course this type of reductio ad absurdum immediately exposes the multifarious flaws of democracy, but MPs generally look weird going down this path. My own view – that the way to solve the glaring disymmetry of our bicameral parliamentary system is to have an unelected House of Commons – never found much favour.

It is odd that Johnson should have gone for the elected commissioners idea when there was so much else in Mrs May’s statement to oppose.  For a start, all her language about radical proposals and reconnecting the police with the people is just cover for cuts or, as the Daily Telegraph quaintly puts it this morning, a return to “1950s policing”.  How wonderful, just when ITV has finally got round to axeing Heartbeat,  the coalition wants to bring it back. Last of the Summer Wine is on its way out too, which gives us a clue to IDS’ latest thinking on pension reform.

This then is the bold new policing. Lots of “special constables” riding round on bikes or, if they are lucky, in old Ford Anglias while the public are licensed to go after rabbit poachers with their walking sticks. The Home Secretary’s press release announcing these changes reads like every press release on police reform has read since the time of Sir Robert Peel – bobbies on the beat, an end to form-filling &c &c (“c” in this context, stands for cliche) – and there is even a reference to an exciting new idea called “neigbourhood watch”. (Actually we all know that this is just an old idea, given a lick of paint.  The only difference you will notice is that the window-sticker you are given to display will say “Big Society” and if you catch a burglar Eric Pickles will come round and sit on him.)

Even the cuts look dodgy though. For instance, a whole quango – the Serious Organised Crime Agency – is to bite the dust. And be replaced with something called the National Crime Agency. Tough times in the Home Office: acronyms reduced by a whole 25%. It all seems rather week and woossy to be honest. As if we can no longer afford as a nation to take on the broken society, but we’re going to have a damn good crack at the brokeback society.

There is one innovative idea, however. Not only will there be new police commissioners, but crime commissioners too. In our new participative democracy even the felons get to be elected. Marvellous. Can’t help thinking though that it’s wrong to choose our low life not on their ability but according to party allegiance.

Elsewhere, Jeremy Hunt, who is anxious to win the award as Danny Alexander’s most eager little helper, says that he is going to scrap the National Film Council. This says Mike Lee, a Northern film-maker, is “like abolishing the NHS”. I can’t agree. It will be tricky, however, when the Government does finally get around to scrapping the NHS and we won’t be able to turn round and say “but this is monstrous. It’s like doing away with the National Film Council”.


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