A few weeks ago there was a kerfuffle in the Tory party over whether there should be all women shortlists for selecting election candidates. This idea appears to have been quashed by a backbench and grassroots rebellion – it was deemed unconservative to select on anything but the basis of merit.
Now surely this means that electing police chiefs is unconservative, but it too is a Tory party policy. If people vote for police chiefs, they will vote for those they like the most, or those able to present their message the most. Likability and eloquence are not necessarily the most salient things we should look for in choosing the best police chief, but in elections, they are vital.
Now, before you say that I’m writing off democracy, I’m not. It’s very important – and obviously an election is the best way to select an MP on merit. Key characteristics of MPs are their ability to engage with the public, to present and explain their parties policies and to be able to win the trust of others.
We don’t want untrustworthy, introverted mumblers as police chiefs but that is not their most important quality. Their most important quality is to be able to manage and run a police force, to command the respect of their seniors and juniors, and to be able to quickly assess and respond to situations according to their training (and improvise if needs be). I’m sure there are other characteristics too, but I don’t know them because I’ve not got the experience and carefully honed training of those in our professional police forces who currently determine and advise on who should get what job.
If police chiefs are struggling to engage with the local community, then there needs to be a change of attitude in those police forces and a change of strategy. But elections are not the only method that police chiefs can engage with communities, and certainly not the best. We vote for politicians who set the priorities and parameters of the police, but the police themselves select those who have proven through their careers that they are able to take on the job.