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.

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2 thoughts on “Can we say PCCs are a failed experiment now?

  1. Agree with your last paragraph there, I’m afraid that it will be a case of ‘see. told you it makes no difference’ compounding a lack of faith in voting generally. This could have been (and was) foreseen – if no one knows why they’re supposed to vote,or anything about any of the candidates, then why on earth should they vote? It’s important that we don’t blame poor turnout on voters in this instance.

    P.S. goodness help us if the Labour candidate gets in inSussex, he is one of the most knee jerk and objectionable people I ever had the misfortune to meet.

  2. How is replacing an unelected Police Authority made up of unaccountable appointees with a directly elected Police and Crime Commissioner not:
    a) a ‘coherent reform in local governance’
    b) good for democracy?

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