10th November 2012: Should I break the habit of a lifetime?

In four days time, Cambridgeshire will choose itself someone for a very big position, that of Police and Crime Commissioner. In terms of direct influence, it's a big job - arguably bigger than that of a backbench MP - and the consequences of getting the wrong person in the job could be significant. They'll have a big say in setting policy and allocating budgets, not least a sizeable one for their own position as they take over from the old Police Authorities. We have seven people up for the job. How many pieces of literature do you think I have received?


That's right, apart from each one having a brief statement on the official ChooseMyPcc website, I know nothing about these individuals. Apparently some have been out and about meeting individuals; in Cambridge I hear that traditional Lib Dem barcharts are making an appearance, but out here they have been conspicuous by silence - other than the rather farcical selection and then deselection of someone who wouldn't join the party who selected him, and a second party who appeared to be against the whole thing in principle but thought they'd better find someone because all the others did. Those not online, or even less prolific with their internet time than me presumably are being asked to take a shot in the dark. Clearly the government are worried about, hence adverts to get us to turn out for fear we'll become overrun with ne'er-do-wells if we don't... (though surely the criminals would rather we voted for the worst candidate rather than no-one?)

Relying on a website and nothing more to get your message out is, frankly, an insult to a significant chunk of society.

For the two independents it's more forgivable; an electorate of 600,000 would need to be reached by direct mail rather than hand-delivered correspondence, and that makes it expensive going. However, the "independent" label can cover a multitude of positions, and for them it's even more imperative to make contact with the voters. How on earth can we know in which direction they would take our police? For the parties, it should be a matter of firing up the supporter network - the same network that plies us with leaflets every May when council seats are up for grabs. Where are they? Perhaps they, like us, are unenthusiastic about the election and are staying in the warm. Perhaps they believe it's a done deal for the dominant party locally. Perhaps they are simply fed up with the level of street-tramping being asked of them, or the general same-iness of candidates.

Perhaps too it's the pathetic standard of debate. There's no point telling us that one is going to be tough on waste. Who on earth would go into an election saying "Waste is good"? Or for that matter "crime is good", or "inappropriate sentences are good"? (Not that the PCC will have influence over sentencing, but it hasn't stopped some). We need to hear more about the nuances of policy - the balances between crime prevention, community relations, beat policing, and intelligence-led pursuit of serious crime. They are all good things but how do you fit them all in a finite budget? Will our PCC support programs that are proven to work even if they don't fit his ideology, will he (sadly 7 out of 7 "he") be more out to appease the noisiest members of the public? I simply don't know.

And for that reason, I really felt uninspired to use my postal vote when it arrived. I will, because I want to avoid us ending up with someone who appears to be a hang-'em-and-flog-'em type. I also don't really want to pass up something I consider my democratic duty, which I believe I haven't missed since the local elections in May 1985. But when the best I can do is vote tactically based largely on party stereotypes, it's a pretty sad state of affairs.

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