The newspapers, comments sections and social media sites are once again filled with stories about Kent’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Ann Barnes; a woman whose name is prefaced so often by the word “embattled” that it could have been written on her birth certificate.
This time it is confirmation from the IPCC that she did indeed break the law by driving without insurance, though, bizarrely, the CPS chose not to act.As one commentator on the Kent Messenger website wryly observed, “If I had been driving without insurance, it wouldn’t have taken the police 12 months to investigate me before deciding that I shouldn’t be held to account.”
What I find most ironic are the online comments. Three years ago such comments were crowded with her champions, saying how wonderful it would be to have and “independent” Police Commissioner. These voices are now strangely silent. In their place is an online poll indicating that 90% want Mrs Barnes to resign, and vitriolic remarks about her abilities. I struggle to contain my schadenfreude.With every catastrophe comes the rehearsal of the stale arguments that the whole endeavour is a waste of money. But Ann Barnes’ incompetence proves exactly the opposite to be true.
For seven years prior to her election Ann Barnes was chair of the Kent Police Authority, an organisation which (more or less) had the same powers as she now wields alone. But her emotional spasms, ineptitude and inability to form sound judgement did not suddenly materialise in November 2012 when she was elected. Her previous leadership must have been affected by the same incompetence, but because she was neither elected nor accountable she avoided the spotlight of public scrutiny. The old Police Authorities were beholden to the patronage of various Council Leaders who had the power to appoint and remove its membership - none of whom were accountable to the people who paid the bills.Now Mrs Barnes’ inability has been exposed, the people of Kent have the power to remove her from office, which they no doubt will should she be sufficiently myopic to seek re-election. That option would never have been available had direct elections not been introduced.
The office of Police & Crime Commissioner is not perfect, but I hold today the same view that I held four years ago; it is a significant improvement on what went before. The person responsible for police budgets and priorities is exposed to the spotlight of public opinion which was never previously the case, and the public have the power to jeer her off the stage.
It is a tragedy that the people of Kent have had to pay such a high price to enable the point to be made.