On Thursday there will be a by-election for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner in South Yorkshire.
Under normal circumstances (whatever they are) this would be safe Labour territory. It covers the area of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield.
Shaun Wright won the position for Labour in 2012 on the first round – with 51 per cent of the vote. He since resigned in disgrace. It was partly on his watch as a Labour councillor that 1,400 cases on child abuse took place in Rotherham.
Naturally enough if I lived in South Yorkshire I would be voting for the Conservative candidate, Ian Walker. Mr Walker is a Sheffield entrepreneur who has also made a huge contribution to voluntary organisations – including those concerned with disadvantaged youths. His manifesto back cutting red tape and targets. He backs tougher penalties and greater efforts to combat anti social behaviour.
However I would use my second preference vote to support the UKIP candidate – the former policeman Jack Clarkson. If he was elected it would mean UKIP had real power – something they have actually been careful to avoid. In several town halls they could have entered into coalition agreements but they have opted for the indulgence of protest and opposition instead.
Mr Clarkson may well be elected. That would be an extraordinary outcome. But then so, in its own way, would be a Labour victory. If Labour win despite everything that would be depressing for all those of us who retain faith in the democratic system.
Is there any level of negligence from the Labour Party that would show they can no longer take their traditional supporters for granted?
What provides an added difficulty for the Labour is that they want to abolish the post of Police and Crime Commissioner. Their candidate, Alan Billings, agrees. That is hardly likely to motivate Labour supporters to come out to vote – when the party says such posts are worthless.
Incidentally a number of Labour PCCs have attacked the plan to scrap the posts. Some are held by former Labour Ministers – such as Tony Lloyd, Vera Baird, Paddy Tipping and David Jamieson.
They argue that their posts cost less than the previous unelected police authorities which they replaced. The Labour PCCs also claim that they have had some success in improving police efficiency and accountability.
Tony Lloyd, the PCC for Greater Manchester, says:
“We cannot return to the era of police authorities. These invisible bodies were, frankly, ineffective. One of the successes of Labour PCCs means that for the first time the public has a single, democratically-accountable figure for making our police accountable.”
Clive Grunshaw, Labour’s PCC for Lancashire says:
“Since their election, I firmly believe Police and Crime Commissioners across the country have made significantly positive contributions to the communities they serve, and here in Lancashire we have done that on a budget far smaller than that of the Police Authority I replaced.”
Alan Charles, Labour’s PCC for Derbyshire, warns:
“One of the most notable differences that I make as PCC is to act as the ‘glue’ that pulls together local organisations to improve areas of concern, both strategically and at local community level. We are in danger of losing all of this.”
The child abuse scandal in Rotherham was not just a failing of the Labour council – it also shows the importance of police accountability. That could be enhanced by a recall provision, but not by abolition of PCCs and a return to the unelected, powerless Police Authorities.
A defeat for the Labour Party on Thursday would be a victory for accountability.