Boris Johnson proves the power of this police reform

With three weeks to go until the first elections for police and crime    commissioners (PCCs), the public is at last beginning to hear about this    major reform. TV adverts, cunningly placed during Downton Abbey, have    alerted Middle England. Information is being despatched to every household.    The media has stopped complaining about the lack of coverage and started to    cover the story. The Prime Minister has urged people to get out and vote.

In a less-than-principled stand, the Labour Party, who opposed PCCs at every    stage, are fielding candidates. Even the Liberal Democrats, despite their    attempt to sabotage the reform by delaying the poll, are bravely contesting    half the seats. More than 50 independents have thrown their hats into the    ring.

In this fervour of democracy, one voice dissents: Lord Blair, former    commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, has told people to stay at home. He    claims that a single individual cannot represent one police force area. Yet    this is apparently not too big a task for one chief constable. Lord Blair    himself headed a force of 55,000 people, serving a population of 7.4    million, with a budget of £4 billion. But perish the thought that the people    should be given a say.

There's something particularly distasteful about an unelected peer    unsuccessfully seeking to halt a democratic reform, then urging the public    to boycott the ballot box despite the parliamentary vote. Lord Blair is a    member of the once-governing class who felt no need for public consent and    who regard popular views as dangerous. His like ran the quangos of the land,    presiding over a public that could not possibly be trusted to take decisions    for themselves.

Well, good riddance to them. There's an obvious reason why we need the police    to be accountable: you can't choose your force. Increasingly there's choice    over your local school or GP. But the police are a natural monopoly. If you    live in London you get the Met. If you lived there between 2005 and 2008,    you got Ian Blair. And there wasn't a thing you could do about it.

But then along came Boris. With the democratic mandate of a newly elected    mayor, he swiftly despatched his police chief. No wonder the victim opposes    this policy. And that's the power of the reform: it puts the people in    charge. It makes the police accountable for their actions and, in turn, the    elected representatives who supervise the force have their feet held to the    fire.

Interminable objections were mounted to this change. It would politicise the    police, critics said, though my experience was that chief constables were as    skilful political practitioners as my colleagues in the Commons. They    usually ran rings round the chairmen of local police authorities, who the    public had rarely heard of. The chiefs will find it harder after next month.

There are plenty of checks and balances. Chief constables will remain    operationally independent. No politician should have the power to demand an    arrest or investigation. PCCs will swear an oath of impartiality,    undertaking to serve all without fear or favour. Her Majesty's Inspectorate    of Constabulary will continue to watch over forces.

But the most powerful safeguard of all is that the public will be connected    with their force. Decisions about whether to increase the amount we all pay    through council tax for policing will no longer be taken behind closed    doors. Big questions about whether to engage the private sector to deliver    behind-the-scenes policing services will have to be settled in public. I    think that letting companies do back-room tasks more efficiently is the way    to protect the front line. But it will be Commissioners who decide.

The subtext of opposition to these changes is that the police don't need    reform. But it's very hard to look at the tragic story of Hillsborough, or    failings to investigate child abuse, or the murky business of phone hacking,    without concluding that a powerful searchlight needs shining in some dark    corners of policing. Any public service that routinely leaked confidential    information to the press would give cause for concern. When that    organisation is entrusted to uphold the law, yet some of its officers see    nothing wrong, we have a problem.

This is why the new College of Policing, which will set standards and guard    integrity, will be so important. Police officers should be trusted as    professionals, able to exercise discretion without the bureaucratic    interference that has kept them off the streets, but then held properly to    account.

It's true that crime is down - inconveniently undermining Labour's sole policy    on policing, which is to oppose cuts. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home    secretary, would rather you didn't know that her party is quietly committed    to cutting police budgets, too. That would mean fewer police officers. But    it's not something she whispers while she's locked in the embrace of the    Police Federation.

In fact, across the 41 police force areas, good people are standing and they    deserve attention. These are candidates with local roots who care about    their communities. Their decisions over the next four years will matter.    That's why people should ignore the ill-intentioned advice of Lord Blair and    exercise the precious right of democracy on Thursday, November 15. Those who    hold power over the people should be accountable to the people.

Christopher N Howarth