Monday 5 November 2012

P C World

I have frequently used this Blog to urge everybody to use your vote in various elections both so that you can influence the result one way or another but also as a bit of self-therapy - it does you good to know you are ultimately in charge and can hire or fire the politicians.

I suppose I do again urge you to use your vote in the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners on 15 November but I can't say I do so with unqualified enthusiasm. My lack of excitement about this isn't because I don't support the principle of democratic accountability for policing. On the contrary I have long thought that many senior managers in the police have had a tendency to run their forces with an eye to public relations considerations, the classic resort for organisations which are not sufficiently accountable.

Note that this is not a criticism of the police or of their Chief Constables - indeed I speak as a solid supporter of the police whom Hafal's members consistently see as the most reliable agency among those tasked with helping people with a mental illness and their families. No, it's the politicians who are responsible for getting the lines of accountability right.

My view is that the new system might be nearly right for England although it has got off to a bad start and turn-out in the elections may be very low. However, in Wales it makes no sense. It is glaringly obvious that Wales should have just one police force - you may recall that there was previously a plan for this (former Home Secretary Charles Clarke said a single force for Wales was the "only acceptable option") but it crashed and burned because of a lot of flak about "localism" mainly fired in England; further, it is also glaringly obvious that we should make use of the existing Welsh democratic structures, namely the National Assembly, to hold policing accountable. I mean the National Assembly and not the Welsh Government: the Assembly is not the Government but holds the Government to account and that's right for policing too.

Oddly enough you would not necessarily need to devolve policing to Wales at least in the short term - the National Assembly could serve as a Police Authority under the present arrangements with the (London) Home Office still holding overall authority for police matters, although if it worked the argument for devolution could be made.

An important advantage of a single force is that it would be able to perform specialist functions more effectively and efficiently. Mental health liaison naturally comes to mind: an all-Wales force could afford a specialist team led by a more senior officer which could work effectively with mental health services and the courts.

While we waste time voting for multiple Police Commissioners in tiny Wales the Scottish Government is setting up a single force (in a country twice the size of Wales!) and those with expertise in these matters see no reason why it shouldn't work well and save money.


What would you call an all-Wales police force? This was discussed back in 2006 when the idea was still alive and I recollect that "Heddlu Cymru - Wales Police" was suggested but my favourite was just "Heddlu". Everybody in Wales except perhaps a hermit living in a deep cave in remotest Snowdonia knows what "heddlu" means and no other country is likely to copy it - unless there is a devolved force in Patagonia? And "Heddlu" (the root of which is of course "hedd" meaning "peace" so happily "heddlu" means something like "peace-corps") would be superior to the Irish "Garda Síochána na hÉireann" ("Guard of the peace of Ireland") which is a bit pompous and militaristic - not to say extravagant in sign-painting costs.


During the recent riots Welsh police vans were observed with alarm on the streets of London (see picture above) as the local twittersphere wondered what the letters HEDDLU stood for, presumably a sinister Stasi-like instrument of state oppression?