Lisa Townsend, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey, has been cleared of “misconduct”, by the Surrey Police and Crime Panel, after expressing her views about transgenderism.

Townsend, a Conservative Home columnist, had expressed robust criticism of Stonewall. She won considerable support from other Conservative PCCs.

The Surrey Police and Crime Panel concluded:

“Concerning the PCC’s interview with the Mail on Sunday on 22 August 2021 (and subsequent attendance to the LGB Alliance Conference) the Complaints SubCommittee considered she acted in her capacity as PCC which was clarified by her statement as PCC on 26 August 2021; the PCC’s Code of Conduct therefore applied.

  • That the PCC had regard to the obligations of Objectivity, Leadership, Selflessness and Integrity. Her role includes addressing areas of concern raised by residents as she may consider appropriate and in the public interest. The PCC is entitled to express her views on such matters in the course of public debate, and the views she expressed on transgender issues did not inherently interfere with the rights of trans people and could not be said to be discriminatory in themselves.
  • That the PCC had not contravened her General Obligations 2 a-c (ci cii); the PCC expressed views that she is entitled to express, and they were expressed in a way that is expected in a tolerant society. The Complaints Sub-Committee did not consider there were any examples when the PCC expressed her views in a way that was indiscriminate, gratuitous, disrespectful or without showing dignity to others.
  • The PCC’s role is to hold the Chief Constable and Surrey Police to account, the way she expressed her views did not breach the Policing Protocol in relation to the distinction between the operational policing function held by Surrey Police and the PCC’s strategic function.
  • That the question of whether the PCC breached the Public Sector Equality Duty was not within the Complaints Sub-Committee’s remit or procedure to determine in relation to the discharge of her functions. The expression of a view in a developing public debate was not considered to be the discharge of a function.”

The Panel’s conclusions are welcome. But what an absurd waste of time and money for such a complaint to be given such elaborate deliberation. Townsend is entitled to her views. As it so happens, her stance on the issue of transgenderism is surely the mainstream opinion, not only in Surrey, but the country generally. Stonewall has put forward some extraordinary demands – while showing intolerance for those who dissent from its zealotry. It wants the law changed to end protection for single sex spaces. So biological men who “identify” as women could use women’s lavatories, demand to be sent to women’s prisons and women’s refuges.

But the democratic approach, for those who disagree with Townsend, about this or anything else, is to not vote for her. (Another democratic lapse is that the unelected Chief Constable for Surrey seems intent on disregarding her views. That matter is not yet resolved. But Townsend has the power to set policy, to set the budget, and to fire the Chief Constable if he fails to secure her objectives to her satisfaction.)

There is an argument that PCCs should face a recall mechanism. This was an issue that Paul Goodman and Jacob Rees-Mogg discussed this week, with respect to MPs. The case for applying it to PCCs is similar. Politicians should be answerable to the electorate. But what if there is some huge controversy that takes place years before the next election is due? For MPs, if they are sentenced to be imprisoned for more than 12 months they automatically have to stand down. But if they are sentenced for a shorter period, or they are suspended from the House of Commons for at least ten days following such a recommendation from the Committee on Standards, there is an opportunity for a by-election to be brought about. Electors may sign a petition over a six week period, and if ten per cent of them do so, then the by-election takes place. Paul has argued that this is both “too lax and too tight”. Why not make the threshold of signatures higher, say 20 per cent? But why not allow it to be undertaken for any reason deemed fit?

We could have the same for PCCs. But then close down the Surrey Police and Crime Panel – thus saving £39,415 a year. Along with its equivalents. PCCs should be accountable to those they serve – not committees agonising over the meaning of complicatedly worded regulations in response to politically motivated complaints. The greater challenge is for the police to be accountable to the public. Which means chief constables being accountable to Police and Crime Commissioners. We are not there yet.