In policing, redress is to come via Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, which will have powers to intervene and replace the management team of either a police force or a Basic Command Unit if performance is poor over a prolonged period. This is to be welcomed: at the moment the Home Secretary has the power to sack a Chief Constable on grounds of poor performance, but these powers are never used. This is because ministers fear they will be accused of political interference in policing if they get too involved in firing police chiefs. This new proposal has the advantage of setting out clear criteria to assess performance, with an automatic ladder of intervention if matters do not improve.
There is now clear blue (or clear red) water between the Conservatives and Labour on policing: Labour favours takeovers by other forces or the dismissal of the management team adjudicated by the independent inspectorate, while the Conservatives favour elected police commissioners with powers to hire and fire. The reason the Conservative plan is so unpopular in the police service is because of the risk of politicising policing decisions through direct election. ippr has produced its own alternative elsewhere, involving a new role for local councils in holding the police to account.
A second interesting innovation in Labour’s criminal justice plans is in the area of punishment. Over the last decade Labour has talked a good talk on community sentencing, but community justice has remained under-funded and hence under-used by the courts as an alternative to custody. Hence there are many people in prison for relatively short periods who would be more effectively punished and rehabilitated by the use of community-based penalties. The manifesto contains welcome new pledges to strengthen forms of community payback and to ‘reduce the number of women, young and mentally ill people in prison’.