Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections


The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee has woken up to the potential power of PCCs.

In her evidence to MPs Mrs Napier [former Chief Constable of Gwent Police] accused Mr Johnston [The PCC – a former police chief superintendent in Gwent] of “menacing and bullying” her out of her job.
In their report, published on Saturday, the MPs criticised the Gwent PCC for what they called “this disdainful attitude towards scrutiny by Parliament, as well as an indication of a clear over-sensitivity to criticism”.
They pointed out that Mr Johnston had been elected by less than eight per cent of voters in Gwent and “had managed to side-step the statutory arrangements for local scrutiny of his decision to sack the chief constable”.
The MPs said it was “further evidence, if any were needed, that the checks and balances on police and crime commissioners are too weak”.

BBC News Website 20 July 2013 Gwent Police commissioner ‘disdainful’, say MPs

I thought the idea of PCCs was to “make the police more-accountable”.

Yet Mr Johnston was “elected” – which in “government speak” means his writ should rule (just like the PM thinks, despite his lack of a parliamentary majority, his writ should rule).

Yet look at his results:

Party Candidate 1st Round  % 2nd Round Total
Independent Ian Johnston 23,531 39.64% 6,217 29,748
Labour Hamish Sandison 23,087 38.89% 1,549 24,636
Conservative Nick Webb 6,630 11.17%
Independent Christopher Wright 6,118 10.31%
Turnout 59,366 13.97%
Rejected ballots 1,555 2.55%
Total votes 60,921 14.34%
Registered electors 424,903

(source: Newport Council: “Election of Police and Crime Commissioner for the Gwent Police Area 15th November, 2012” quoted in Wikipedia)

Gwent was the PCC area where one ballot box – Bettws in Newport – had not votes in it.

Now arguably a PCC can claim that low turnout should not shackle him and he should be free to implement his manifesto.  As we know these were not distributed (but were made available on-line for those who really felt they ought to know who they were voting for – something that is considered optional by politicians who think we should just “vote the ticket”).

This PCC’s election statement said:

… I am standing as an Independent candidate because I believe we must “Keep Politics out of Policing”.  As an independent I am only answerable to the electorate and nobody else. I will work WITH elected politicians but FOR the people of Gwent without political interference or influence.

It would seem that his attitude is entirely consistent with this statement – until the next election everyone is stuck with him.

Keith Vaz, the chairman of the committee, said: “It is worrying that police and crime commissioners seem able to side-step the statutory process for dismissing a chief constable.

“Police and Crime Panels should make more active use of their powers to scrutinise decisions such as this.

“We will be returning to this area when we carry out our next major inquiry into police and crime commissioners, towards the end of this year.”

Colin Mann, a member of Gwent Police and Crime panel, told BBC Radio Wales that the panels had limited powers over their PCCs.

He said: “The [commissioners] have an unlimited right to do what they want. We advise a PCC but a PCC can say ‘thanks very much, I’ve decided otherwise’.”
BBC News Website 20 July 2013 Gwent Police commissioner ‘disdainful’, say MPs

Does make the old Police Authority system look far more accountable – doesn’t it?

NB. This Ian Johnston, QPM is not Sir William Ian Ridley Johnston, CBE, QPM, DL who was the Chief Constable of British Transport Police. (Some links in for instance Wikipedia are incorrect)


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