Vicky Seddon, Coordinator of Sheffield for Democracy
In the absence of a properly run set of elections for the new post of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs), Sheffield First Partnership, Sheffield for Democracy and the Star Newspaper banded together to host a hustings event. We took it upon ourselves to organise this meeting because the utter lack of information available for local voters has been a disgrace – little to no material has been distributed on the candidates or explaining what the office of PCC will mean for local policing.
We are very concerned about how undemocratic these elections will turn out to be. Just two weeks before election day, it was great to see more than 70 interested locals come along to hear from the five candidates running for the position of PCC for South Yorkshire Policing Area.
Interestingly, all the candidates in our area are drawn from political parties (Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour, UKIP and English Democrats) with the only independent forced to withdraw due to the excessive cost of running. This is unsurprising as it costs £5000 to register, with no guarantee that candidates will make their money back if voter turnout is low. £5000 is a huge barrier to participation – and again, incredibly undemocratic.
The candidates acknowledged that the election is being badly handled, and even went as far as to acknowledge that elected Commissioners aren’t necessarily the right way to go. Even so, each of them still wants to be the PCC for South Yorkshire! Many of the people I spoke to before the event also disagree with the election process, as it isbeing imposed by a central government that hasn’t bothered to put it to voters in a referendum, like the ill-fated proposal for elected mayors.
A lively discussion followed introductions, with candidates fielding questions on tricky issues like whether the new PCC role is a move towards Americanisation, and the extent to which they would continue their allegiance to their political parties rather than exercise their own judgement. Each said they would not take instructions from their parties if elected.
Candidates also made a distinction between operational matters (the responsibility of the Chief Constable) and their role, which would have strategic oversight. There was disagreement about whether an increase in police numbers on the street would reduce the crime rate and what a more effective use of police resources might mean. This level of debate is concerning, as it reinforces the lack of clearly defined understanding of what the role actual means.
At the end of the evening, some were still unsure whether to vote for a candidate, abstain from voting or spoil their paper because they disagreed so strongly with the process.
That about sums it up – even when voters have more information about the PCC elections they are still ambivalent about what to do with their democratic right.
Sheffield for Democracy is a non-party group that seeks to engage and encourage greater participation of the public in democracy at a local level in Sheffield, and also to encourage young people to become more interested in politics by making them aware of how relevant it is to their lives.
Police and Crime Commissioner Candidate Hustings took place in Sheffield on Monday 5 November. Sheffield for Democracy successfully applied for a Challenge Fund grant from the Electoral Reform Society to go towards this event.