Who are the BBC to question the legitimacy of Police & Crime Commissioners?

What's the test of success of the Police & Crime Commissioners  policy? It is, surely, whether the 41 individuals who will be elected  tomorrow succeed in cutting crime and antisocial behaviour, and  rebuilding public confidence in policing. This is not, however, the test  which the BBC - and others - intend to apply. Their correspondent Danny  Shaw told the Today Programme this morning that ‘the initial verdict on  the success of the PCC experiment will hinge to a large degree on the  turnout ....'

Setting aside the throwaway line that giving people a vote is an  ‘experiment', this is surely a deeply contentious comment. Who, you  might say, are the poll-tax raising and entirely unaccountable BBC to  deliver a ‘verdict' about legitimacy? Their reporters never stop asking  ministers to declare what the threshold for a successful election is, on  the assumption that there must be one. Well, what's the BBC's? What  proportion of the vote permits them to declare any election a failure?  Because Parliament didn't set one.

Hilary Benn was elected to the Commons in a by-election on a turnout  of less than 20 per cent. Was he declared to have no standing as an MP?  What about the councils that rule with a fraction of the votes of their  local electorate? And forgive me if I've missed it, but when did the BBC  ever question the legitimacy of MEPs (turnout in 1999, 23 per cent),  never mind the European Commission? Yes, declining voter engagement in  all elections is a real issue. But as the former President of the  Association of Chief Police Officers, Ken Jones, said on Monday, this is  a bigger question, a trend which PCC elections can hardly be expected  to buck.

As Policing Minister I spent two and a half years or more listening  to the invented horrors that this democratic reform would bring. The BNP  would be elected (they haven't even fielded a candidate). Independent  candidates wouldn't stand (they did, and some have a chance of being  elected). Chief constables would resign en masse (not yet). PCCs might  focus on issues of public concern to the detriment of policing (perish  the thought).

A few weeks ago, I attended a regular meeting between West Sussex MPs  and council leaders. One of my colleagues was bemoaning the lack of  effective action - including by the police - to deal with travellers  invading land and making the lives of the community a misery. Even a  meeting with the chief constable had produced no action. We all nodded  our heads and wondered what we could do about it. And then someone said:  ‘Of course, after 15th November, we'll have someone to sort this out.'

Indeed we will. Our Conservative PCC Candidate in Sussex knows  there's a problem.  She's surveyed residents and it's one of the things  they told her. Last Saturday, she visited one of the communities  affected. ‘The law abiding who play by the rules are being let down,'  she said. One resident told me that if only a PCC had been in office,  the community would have known who to go to in the first place.

The PCCs elected tomorrow  might not be the celebrities the media wanted. Not all can be former  four star generals or deputy prime ministers. But they will hold office  by will of the people, not the patronage of politicians or the wisdom of  an appointments commission.  They will speak for the public. That's why  those commentators who recoil at any suggestion that the public might  be right on crime dislike Police & Crime Commissioners so much, and  it's also why this reform will endure.

Christopher N Howarth