Debra Allcock Tyler: The new police commissioners - and why the sector should care about them

Whether or not you support the politicisation of policing, it's happening, says our columnist - and it will potentially have a huge impact on charities and voluntary organisations

Debra Allcock Tyler
Debra Allcock Tyler

I've been thinking about thinking. And thinking that there's a lot of thinking that isn't being 'thunk'. I come from a family of committed voters. My father has a very low opinion of people who don't vote. As chance would have it, I turned 18 in time for a general election and - as per expectation - I was duly despatched to the local church hall to cast my ballot. My father asked who I'd voted for. "Conservative, of course, daddy," I replied. "And why did you vote Conservative?" he asked. "Erm, because that's who our family vote for?" I replied, somewhat baffled by the question.

My father was abso-blooming-lutely furious. The gist of the lengthy telling-off that I received was that for me to vote exactly the way he voted was lazy; that his father was a staunch Labour voter and that my father didn't just copy his dad; that although he usually voted Conservative, it was always a considered vote; and that I should always be able to explain, with examples and evidence, for whom I was voting and why.

It was a salutary lesson in thinking and because of that I am truly an independent voter. I have voted for all the major parties at some point. So I have no party loyalties at all but I still believe profoundly that politics really matter.

Which is why I find myself completely baffled by the total lack of interest being exhibited by the general public, the media and - worse - the voluntary sector, in the issue of the new police and crime commissioners in England and Wales. In the recent elections, the turnout was a shameful 18.5 per cent.

On the one hand, I imagine that if you don't ever come across the police often (other than the occasional traffic violation) you probably don't think it matters that much. And of course the media is very often lazy about such things - if it's not scandalous, what's the point of reporting on it?

But for the voluntary sector to be so silent on the issue really concerns me. Because whether you support the politicisation of policing or not (about which I have serious worries personally and don't recall being consulted), it's happening. And it will potentially have a huge impact on large parts of our sector.

Not only do police forces up and down the country actually cough up hard cash for voluntary sector work, but the priorities they decide upon affect what we do and how we do it. From badger culling to spot checks on suspicious-looking characters to arresting people who drop litter, the police deal with myriad issues and causes. They can choose to work alongside youth organisations or charities dealing with ex-offenders or animal welfare groups - or not, if your new PCC decides that's not a priority.

This issue matters. So why aren't we talking about it? Like my father, I don't mind if people disagree with my politics. I mind if they don't care about politics at all. Like it or not, in relation to our sector in particular it really matters that people think.

Debra Allcock Tyler is chief executive of the Directory of Social Change

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