The British National Party is drawing up plans to win control over policing when the Government introduces direct elections for police authorities
Leaders of the far-right party believe that their hardline message will chime with voters when, as expected, crime rises during the recession. They can be expected to exploit fears of crime caused by migrant workers in places where immigration from eastern Europe has been high.
Winning seats on police authorities would give the BNP influence over forces’ budgets, the appointment of chief officers and the allocation of resources.
Senior officers and police authorities are alarmed at the proposals for direct elections, which are supported, in differing forms, by Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. They fear that elections for police authorities would frequently have low turnouts, leading to the election of extremists and single-issue campaigners.
“We will be having a real go, there’s no doubt about that,” said Simon Darby, deputy leader of the BNP. “We have a staunch core of voters who are guaranteed to turn out and they could be enough to win us seats in these circumstances. Crime will undoubtedly rise in the recession – burglaries go up, car theft rises, there will be problems with drug pushers. People don’t want to put up with that and they’ll want something done about it. We have a nononsense approach to crime. People want the politically correct gloves taken off the police, they want to be told the truth about crime, and that’s exactly where we’re coming from.”
The Association of Police Authorities confronted Vernon Coaker, the Policing Minister, with its concerns about elections at its conference last week. But Mr Coaker said that he was convinced that “only direct election, based on geographic constituencies, will deliver the strong connection to the public which is critical”.
The minister dismissed fears that low turnouts would let the BNP win representation as “ridiculous”. He added: “The BNP has stood against many of the councillors on police authorities. They have stood against me. How have we beaten them? By persuasion; we have pointed out the racist nature of much of what they say.”
The 43 police authorities in England and Wales are currently made up of appointed members drawn from local councils or chosen to represent local communities.
Saima Afzal, of Lancashire Police Authority, said direct elections would mean less diversity.
“Women and people from minority ethnic communities already face significant barriers in achieving equal opportunities across many areas of everyday life,” she said. “Introducing elections would make it even harder for people who are currently underrepresented in the oversight of policing to get involved with their police authority.”
Bob Jones, chairman of the Association of Police Authorities, said: “Improving public confidence in policing must be our key aim for the future, but direct elections to police authorities are not the solution. Indeed, this is more likely to undermine confidence if directly elected representatives make promises they cannot deliver, or if policing is hijacked by single-issue groups or extremists. Yes, people want more ownership and say over local policing services, but the best way to do that is through ensuring the police are more responsive and accessible at a local level.”
The current proposals for elected police authorities are contained in a Home Office Green Paper, entitled “From the neighbourhood to the national: policing our communities together”, published in July.
Introducing the document, Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, said that she would introduce elected “crime and policing representatives” to “strengthen the democratic link between the public and the people who hold the police to account”.
The BNP says that it has more than 100 local and parish councillors, the latest of whom was elected in Lincolnshire on Thursday. It plans to make a major push to win seats in the elections to the European Parliament next June.