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Ron Bendell: Can anyone tell me what we will get with our vote?

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: November 14, 2012

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Spare a thought for the lonely. Those sad, bored, isolated folk who spend the day staring out of the window. Wretched and forsaken, simply longing for the sound of a fellow human being's voice. They are everywhere.

Which is why, tomorrow, I shall be popping down to the village hall to visit the clerk to be found there tearing his hair out in a fit of ennui having read the paper seven times, completed all the crossword and sudoku puzzles and wishing he had brought along an improving book. Not to vote in the Police and Crime Commissioner election, you understand, but just to say a cheery hello. His 7am to 10pm stint looks like being pretty lonesome.

Just 17.5 per cent of those eligible are expected to turn up to vote and I'm afraid I won't be one of them.

This isn't because of apathy, the making of a party-political point or even a variation on "the only valid vote is a spoiled one" theme but a frank admission that I haven't got the foggiest what it's all about. And you're talking here to a chap who soaks up news and current affairs. I can wax lyrical on ash dieback, why Mitt Romney failed to take the US and Plymouth Argyle's place in the football league. But PCCs? The mind's a blank.

Searching for the principles behind their introduction reveals little. PM David Cameron, who presumably came up with the idea, seems slow in setting out his plans. Too busy, quite clearly, organising inquiries and watching the BBC disappear up its own fundament. As for the candidates, not a single leaflet has come through the door, no campaigners have been touring the streets with loud hailers and the local press hasn't exactly been packed with tales of thrills and spills on the hustings.

A reckless and irresponsible neglect of democratic duty, I know, but my poll card, like millions of others, will stay pinned to the notice board in the kitchen.

One thing that did get the brain cells working was talk of money. Now, if each of the new PCCs was to arrive at his plush new set of offices armed with a huge wadge of cash to sort out all the local problems of police presence, crime prevention and the like, a vote in any old box would do. With a few variations in style and priorities, the outcome could be only for the good. Trouble is, the number one task these new despots will have is to oversee is massive cuts in budgets, and their pockets won't be carrying cheques but a collection of bills amassed by getting them there in the first place. The cost of the commissioners nationally will work out at about £500 million every four years.

Out of thin air we will have conjured up a whole new layer of bureaucracy. Not just the man or woman at the top but they'll have deputies, too. These, in turn, will have their own assistants and secretarial back-up. Each will need a state-of-the-art desk, computer and iPhone to be housed in offices that need rent, maintenance, heating and lighting. There will be training days and endless travelling and overnight expenses – and lurking in the background will be a well-paid press and publicity officer making sure that all stay on-message.

All of these roles and functions already exist, of course, at police headquarters. But with Chief Constables unlikely to relinquish even a tiny part of their empires, the duplication will persist year on year.

As the familiar cry goes out "Where are the bobbies on the beat?" when we are burgled, attacked or robbed, all we will actually be getting are more anonymous men in suits beavering away at comfortable work stations.

Whatever the good intent of the candidates tomorrow, their very existence means not a halt to a decline in policing, but a guaranteed speeding-up of the downward spiral – for every pound spent on those in an elected office means a pound less to be spent on an officer in uniform.

And when I go into the hall to see that poor clerk sitting beside a stack of unused pencils and ballot papers tomorrow, I shall remember that, despite his tedium, he will be getting paid. As will his relief. And their boss. And the hundreds lined up on overtime to count the votes. And... well, you get the picture.

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