Democracy can only work when people are given a real choice between candidates. Democracy works best when it includes all members of our society and offers a platform for a broad range of perspectives and experiences. Democracy relies on the participation of the public, without which elections would have no meaning.
If we apply each of these tests to the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections, it is hard to escape their overwhelming failure, so far, to be truly democratic. That is part of why, at 22 years old, I am running as an independent candidate to be Warwickshire’s PCC.
I intend to bring a new perspective to the debate on crime, and as an independent candidate can make a clear promise that I will do all in my power to keep party-politics out of policing. One basic fact speaks volumes on the democratic deficit present in the sphere of policing; that is, nationally, 18-24 year olds commit the most crime and are the most common victims of crime. In short, people like me are most likely to come into contact with the police and yet have almost no representation whatsoever in the way their county is policed.
This is not limited to positions of power. Unlike many people my age (or any age for that matter), I have followed the PCC elections of 2012 and of today with much interest. A common thread in my experience, and played out previously at the ballot box, is that most candidates have cynically ignored younger voters and made little to no attempt to involve them in the process.
I want to engage with all groups in the community, regardless of age, gender, race, religion, sexuality or anything else. Every citizen of Warwickshire has a civil right to vote and a human right to free speech. But if nobody seeks their vote, and nobody listens to what they have to say, these rights become nothing more than empty ideals.
People my age don’t often run in elections like this, that much is obvious. We don’t often vote in them either. Those in power can speculate all day as to why this is the case but until this generation is engaged in a meaningful dialogue then there is no chance of greater understanding, and even less chance of improving the situation.
Having worked for two Police and Crime Commissioners, I am well-placed to understand the opportunities and limitations of the role. Across these offices, in Warwickshire and County Durham, I have been the lead for drug and alcohol policy, organised crime, youth engagement, ICT and emergency services collaboration. If I get elected in May, I will hit the ground running, and get straight to work on making our county a safer place for all.
It is time for a fresh approach. Twenty years ago people were saying we needed more police officers. Today, candidates across the country say we need more police officers. Twenty years from now, the call will no doubt be the same. This is fundamentally short-sighted.
What we really need are fewer criminals. Prevention of crime will be my top priority – if we can break the cycle of re-offending and stop young people from going down the wrong path, we will secure our safety well into the future. We need to be forward-thinking and tackle crime at its source. This is the only way to effectively reduce the number of victims in Warwickshire, and yet it is routinely ignored by those in power.
As citizens of Warwickshire we must reclaim our right to a say in the policing of our county. Tired of the empty statements and meaningless promises that have come to characterise modern politics, I have instead developed a set of eight clear and comprehensive promises that I will deliver if elected as PCC.
Despite me being one of six candidates in this election, the lack of overlap in policies is noticeable – and troubling. 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. But no other candidate sees tackling domestic abuse as a priority. At least 50% of prisoners are in for drug-related offences. But no other candidate mentions ‘drugs’ in their manifesto let alone sets out a policy. An estimated 82,187 Warwickshire people were victims of cyber-crime last year. But no other candidate is moving with the times and highlighting online crime as a distinct threat.
Replacing vague statements with practical policy ideas is the most common reason people give for supporting my campaign. In terms of avoiding the real issues, this PCC election is worse than I expected. That is perhaps why I’m the only candidate with the backing of two former Chief Constables and the former Treasurer to the Warwickshire PCC.
I am not only honoured to have these endorsements, but I think they reveal more clearly the widespread appetite - even among senior figures in policing - for a fresh approach.
Ben Twomey, Independent Candidate for Warwickshire Police and Crime Commissioner.
Police and Crime Commissioner elections take place 5th May, 2016.
Photograph: Ben Twomey