Two weeks today, most of England and Wales will get the opportunity to vote for police and crime commissioners (PCC).
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats agreed in their coalition deal back in 2010 police forces should be made more accountable to the public.
As a result, elections will take place across the country on Thursday, November 15, which have so far struggled to hold the attention of the public amid fears of a record low turnout from an apathetic electorate.
PCCs will replace police authorities, which currently oversee each police force in England and Wales outside London.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who has criticised police authorities for being “un-elected and invisible”, insists the elections are important.
“People are going to be voting in their own law and order champion,” he said.
“One person who sets the budgets, sets the priorities; hires and fires the chief constable; bangs heads together to get things done.
“If you want more tough policing, you can get it.”
The police minister, Damian Green, has labelled the elections as “historic”.
He said: “This puts the public at the heart of policy making, and at the heart of policing.”
But critics have argued the elections amount to a politicisation of the police.
There have also been questions asked as to why the ballot is taking place in November.
Lord Blair, former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police – an unelected role – has called for the public to boycott the poll. He argues each force area is too large for an individual to be able to represent it effectively.
There are now four candidates bidding to become the first PCC for Northamptonshire following the withdrawal of Labour’s Lee Barron.
They are Jim MacArthur of UKIP, independent candidate John Norrie, Adam Simmonds representing the Conservatives and Liberal Democrat Paul Varnsverry.
Whoever is elected will be tasked with holding Chief Constable of Northamptonshire Police Adrian Lee to account, and is also expected to help build public confidence in the force.
But with a poll last week showing only 15 per cent are absolutely certain to vote, the winner will have an uphill task to engage with the electorate in the way ministers had hoped.
Candidates face the public in debate
People will next week get another chance to quiz the hopefuls vying to become Northamptonshire’s police and crime commissioner.
A hustings featuring the four remaining candidates will be held at the Hind Hotel, in Sheep Street, Wellingborough, on Tuesday, November 6, at 7pm.
It follows other similar hustings around the county at which the electorate have had the opportunity to put their questions and concerns to the candidates.
Organisers hope the hustings in Wellingborough will help to raise public awareness about the election, which has suffered from a low profile and has been particularly overshadowed in the north of the county by the Parliamentary by-election in Corby and East Northamptonshire on the same day.
Hind Hotel operations manager Shasha Khan said: “I sense there is an appetite to want to know more about this new position, as well as the candidates competing for your vote.”
A similar hustings held in Northampton in October saw the then five candidates clash over how the county’s force would deal with the trimming of its budget, which is estimated to amount to £20m in savings by 2015.
Labour’s Lee Barron, who has subsequently withdrawn from the race, told the audience his fellow candidates needed to offer the electorate firm assurances as to how they would manage on a squeezed budget.
“The people of Northamptonshire need answers on what we will tackle in our budgets,” he said.
Independent candidate John Norrie said the cuts were “grossly unfair”, while UKIP’s Jim MacArthur warned front-line services would be adversely affected “for the foreseeable future” if cuts were made.
Lib Dem Paul Varnsverry said the force needed a commissioner with the tenacity to demand sufficient funding.
He promised that, if elected, he would “go knocking down doors at Westminster with the chief constable and see that we get our money back”.
Meanwhile Adam Simmonds, the Conservative Party candidate, suggested the police might have to share services to cut costs, but accused his rivals of being devoid of solid plans to cope with the cuts.
He added: “No-one I have heard has said how they are going to make this work.”
Expert view: this poll is a finely poised political battle
Glyn Daly, associate professor in politics and sociology at Northampton University, gives his views.
“The Corby Parliamentary by-election represents a weather vane for the political mood of Britain. As a marginal seat, it is being hotly contested by the two main runners, Labour and Conservative, who have been deploying their top brass in publicity parades.
A sideshow to the by-election, the police and crime commissioner election, is also scheduled for Thursday, November 15. This election will use the supplementary vote system, a system where second preference votes are distributed if no candidate emerges with more than 50 per cent of first preference votes, which will appeal to the increasingly beleaguered Lib-Dems. While Home Secretary Theresa May has declared this will ‘transfer power back to the people’, others have argued that it will have the effect of politicising UK policing and of creating a new sphere of politicians who put popularity first.
Yet it would appear there is very little national interest in the police commissioner elections, with the Electoral Reform Society forecasting a turnout of just 18.5 per cent. Increasing turnout may well be part of the reasoning for holding both the police elections and the by-election on the same day – and thereby claimed officially as a “victory for democracy”.
On the other hand, the police commissioner election could also be used by Conservatives as a kind of Trojan horse to smuggle in concerns about ‘broken Britain’ and to steer public debate away from unpopular austerity policies.
Either way, it is a finely poised political battle.”