The polls are a few hours away from closing, but that’s no reason not to ask the question of the day: when did the PCC idea fail? When the big name independents didn’t stand? When candidates weren’t allowed free snail-mail election addresses? When turnout struggled to hit parish council by-election levels?
I wish the new office-holders luck (and I did vote, because I always vote), but I think the office itself is a bad idea, and that was clear a long time before the polls opened.
Even the most brilliant independent candidate, elected on a huge turnout, wouldn’t solve the PCC problem, because it goes much wider – it’s the problem of fragmented democracy.
It’s a flawed idea that electing one role, or having one referendum makes a governing system more democratic – when that one election or that one referendum invites conflict with other democratic mandates. Police and Crime Commissioners will overlap with councils and elected mayors (except, of course, in London – the Met evidently being either too important, or not important enough). Single-issue referendums, as Margaret Thatcher said, clash with the democratic mandate of Parliament.
More generally, single-issue democracy – referendums on the EU, police and crime commissioners, even elected mayors – are all sticking plasters with “democracy” written on them, applied to a whole system without coherent theory of democracy behind them. Even where there are such theories (Douglas Carswell has a new book out, for instance) implementation is partial and half-hearted, as we have seen with PCCs.
Referendums are a bad idea without a constitutional settlement that describes when and how referendums should take place. Directly elected local offices are a bad idea unless they are part of a coherent reform of local governance.
I think piecemeal responses to the demand for greater democracy will cause more disillusionment and anger rather than the reverse. That’s not an argument for doing nothing, or even for a huge rewrite of our constitution – just for making sure that there is a goal and a direction of travel to democratic reform, beyond an immediate tactical fix.