On 15 November people in England and Wales will vote to elect a Police and Crime Commissioner for each of 41 police forces.
The PCCs replace the existing Police Authorities and will therefore be in charge of police funding and producing a "Police and Crime Plan" - which includes policing priorities and objectives, and a set of policing targets - which will be used to hold the chief constable to "account".
The Conservative Party - who proposed creating the role - have argued that Police Commissioners are "the most significant democratic reform" to policing in England and Wales "in our lifetime" and that it will allow the public to "hold forces to account and help restore trust".
As Marxists, we know this is nonsense. The police cannot be “democratised” and Police Commissioners have no real powers to “hold the police to account”; they do not have the power to stop the police from crushing strikes, arresting and harassing trade unionists, assaulting workers and students on demonstrations, or murdering people in custody.
Nor can the Police Commissioners end the systemic, institutional racism of the police. They are more likely to help cover it up. The Labour Party have stood Lord Prescott as their candidate for Humberside Police Commissioner - a man allegedly involved in a cover-up of the racist murder of Christopher Alder by Humberside Police 14 years ago.
In short, the role is pointless; its only purpose is to give a feint veneer of legitimacy and accountability to a reactionary, anti-working-class state institution.
In so far as we make demands about democratic accountability of the police it should be for strong local police authorities based on local government. This is not because we think such arrangements would solve the problem of the police, making them fully democratic and accountable (which is impossible), but because they would maximise the possibilities for disruption of their repressive activities. Though only to an extent - look at how police authorities failed to control the police during the miners' strike. Even if police authorities had stronger powers, the police are designed and have evolved over the best part of two hundred years to be immune from democratic control.
Local police authorities could be democratic than PCCs for the same reason that old-style local councils were more democratic than cabinets and elected mayors.
In addition, PCCs lend themselves to "hang 'em and flog 'em" populist right wingers running for office. No surprise that sections of the far right have been so excited about them.
The Labour Party, while claiming to oppose the establishment of PCCs, have nonetheless stood their own candidates in the elections and poured vast resources into campaigning for them.
This is at a time when the NHS is facing privatisation, local councils are making savage cuts to desperately needed public services, hundreds of thousands of council workers are facing redundancy, 5 million people are on the housing waiting list, 2.5 million people are unemployed, 3.6 million children live below the poverty line, and one child starved to death in temporary accommodation waiting for benefits.
Labour Party activists' time would be better spent building the fight against the cuts and privatisation. This means campaigning in the party for Labour Councils to refuse to implement any cuts and for Labour to commit to rebuilding the NHS as was agreed at conference. It could be used to campaign for a national living wage, for the building of millions of new council houses, for free education, for the repeal of the anti-union laws, and the creation of millions of new socially-useful jobs; all funded by the expropriation of the banks and taxing the rich.
Lastly: we do not want to "restore trust" in the police! Socialists should also be using this time to educate the labour movement to distrust the police and prepare to replace them, while also raising the demand that institutions such as MI5, MI6, TSG, and other special forces be immediately abolished.