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is meaningful citizen participation in government possible? October 23, 2012

Posted by Bradley in : governance , trackback

After the Presidential debates – endless reiterations of the same rather meaningless and often misleading slogans – where the viewers of the debates are encouraged to make their voting decisions on the basis of who performed better in the debate it’s complicated to think about the idea of citizen participation in government. But there’s lots of information available about the Presidential candidates, even if it’s hard to slog through the sludge of representation and misrepresentation. Making decisions about the downballot is even more complicated.

This isn’t the only election happening right now:

In the UK there’s an experiment going on to have elected Police and Crime Commissioners to hold Chief Constables and police forces to account(under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011). Elections are to be held on November 15th and there’s some rather scary advertising going on with posters for bus shelters suggesting that criminals want voters to stay home on November 15th. And video ads with the same message:

This is a bit odd- as if the police will just stop fighting crime if people don’t show up to vote. Especially as funding cuts are a larger problem for the police than any lack of citizen participation in voting could be. Presumably the ads are about emphasizing the idea that it is important to be tough on crime. And they suggest the crimes it is important to be tough on are scary ones such as vandalism, burglary, and mugging. Not financial crimes such as fare dodging and fraud.

And making people aware of the fact of the elections doesn’t help them to decide who to vote for. There’s a website which will have information about the candidates as of October 26th. But you can see the list of candidates elsewhere, for example at the website of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners.

In Humberside John Prescott is a candidate. But there are a number of other candidates: Godfrey Bloom (UKIP), Simone Butterworth (Liberal Democrat), Paul Davison (Independent) (“I retired this year after 30 years with Humberside Police as a Chief Superintendent in charge of policing the East Riding”), Neil Eyre (Independent) (“Most people don’t want politics and policing in the same melting pot”), Matthew Grove (Conservative) and Walter Sweeney (Independent). Matthew Grove says that Gordon Wasserman, the Goverment’s advisor on policing and criminal justice, says he is the “ideal person” to be the PCC. But that’s because they are both conservatives. So how can citizens decide whom to support?

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