With a nationwide shake-up of the police coming, Lord Prescott tells Joe Shute why he is stepping out of his slippers to patrol the streets of Hull.
IT is a time for heroes. From the likes of the Brownlee brothers and Mo Farah bringing glory to Team GB, to the blockbuster Spiderman and Batman films packing out cinemas this summer.
And herein lies the problem.
There is only one crime commissioner the British public are familiar with, and the Dark Knight’s ally Jim Gordon is more likely to be tackling comic book villains in the sewers of Gotham City than addressing antisocial behaviour on the streets of Hull.
The Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections take place across England and Wales on November 15, and despite it representing the most radical shake-up of policing in decades, voters as a whole hardly seem to know, or care about it.
Meanwhile, the policy is coming under fire on what feels like a daily basis as candidates have to pull out due to criminal convictions, criticism from the police, and a fear extremist parties will exploit the predicted low turn-out in an attempt to get members elected.
And so, out of this increasingly murky policy, Lord Prescott rises.
The Labour candidate for crime commissioner for Humberside Police does not include any superhero films among his DVD collection at his home in Hull, instead preferring box sets of Winston Churchill’s life and the gangster series The Sopranos.
But sitting in his back garden, sipping a black coffee and adjusting a loose front tooth ahead of upcoming dental work, Lord Prescott is relishing his latest political rebirth.
“I don’t envisage being like in Batman,” he says, “I’m not really built for that. You have just got to get out there and put your case. I have always done that and I am now getting my campaign bus ready to visit everywhere and tell them it’s worth voting for.
“It’s absolutely nice to be out there again. The House of Lords is a bit like a job centre, you have to go down there to get paid expenses, and it just gets totally tiring. All my life I have only ever done one job and this is the chance to do something in my region. I won’t be tripping up to the Lords, I will be handling this job in the first four-year period.”
The former deputy Prime Minister who in 2010 became Baron Prescott of Kingston-upon-Hull, admits he was a latecomer to put his name forward as a candidate for the PCCs, and like many in the Labour party is convinced it is a policy that in his words, is “a total mess”.
But he says he is determined to exploit the new role to impose a renewed community emphasis on what police forces should be doing, and following his experiences with the Metropolitan Police as one of dozens of high-profile victims of phone hacking – to increase transparency. “The Labour party was against it,” he says, “I voted against it both in the House of Commons and Lords. I was definitely against it. We felt you could spend the money which is between £100m and £125m, in creating around 3,000 extra police officers.
“What we are saying is, ‘look the election has been called, we would like to prevent some of our fears and excesses and therefore you have to be in the election to campaign for that.
“I was a latecomer, that is true. The first point is, I’m not a great man for putting my slippers on. The second is Labour brought in community policing. That is a very important dimension of police and crime. I don’t want to tell the community what the policy is, my campaign is going out and asking them what it is. I want to become the voice of the people.
“We have a chance now in the area to decide our own policy – having done that you need the police to enforce it. I have got to say what are the real crime issues and social issues that affect the average citizen. I don’t think it’s a political rebirth. I put enthusiasm into everything I do, I have lived a very privileged life.
“And now to be able to act again for the voice of the community to get what they want against pretty well established forces, I have a chance to speak for them. I spoke up for trade unionists, I speak up for Hull, now I want to speak up for Humberside about things that affect them. It’s about acting for people and being their champion, that’s exactly what I want.”
Like many connected to the PCC elections, Lord Prescott says he is concerned about the predicted low turn-out on November 15.
But with three by-elections also due to take place on the same date following the resignation of the Tory MP Louise Mensch in Corby, he is billing it as a mini General Election where he hopes the electorate will turn-out to voice their discontent at the coalition Government’s first two years in power. The Prescott bandwagon is now gearing up for a mammoth few months of touring the region to raise awareness of the elections, while local party activists are also being brought in to pound the streets of Hull.
“The majority of people don’t know what you are talking about with crime commissioners,” he says. “If you wanted people for a good turn-out, would you pick November? You can bet your life and everybody says it – it’s going to be a low turn out.
“We have upped the enthusiasm of constituents in my area telling people what is going on. You have got three by-elections now. That will be a mini General Election, it will be fought on party lines in many ways. I’m telling people in the party, this isn’t just about us.”
Among Lord Prescott’s priorities, if elected, is creating a community response to antisocial behaviour with citizens feeling emboldened to tackle yobs, improving partnerships between alcohol and drug reduction agencies, and strengthening ties between officers and the neighbourhoods they patrol.
“All areas (of crime) have gone down and we are very pleased about that,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean everything is Valhalla. There are still all sorts of problems, and one of them is the social sphere of antisocial activity, some of the time it is driven by drink, some of the time drugs.
“You need to develop a social response to these problems and build on the many agencies presently trying to deal with them.
“For example, this week I was in Scunthorpe and went to a mosque and asked them what their priorities were. They didn’t come out with a whole list of crimes of burglary, or murder, or whatever. What they did say is they are fed up of people being drunk in the streets and sleeping in the streets. They want the streets to be cleared and free. An awful lot of antisocial activity, while not being a crime, is what causes the greatest offence.
“I think we are getting into a phase that attracted me – the social aspect of it which does lead to antisocial behaviour is something you can deal with in a different way. That will open up a debate on crime in a way that hasn’t taken place in this country. Its always been about police numbers.
“What challenges me is the community have come up with the idea that you leave all of this to the council or the police or the government, but they are affected most by the antisocial behaviour, so why don’t they do it more.”
As for any increased privatisation of the role of the police through security companies such as G4S, he is clear: “Can the private sector do it better? I wouldn’t trust G4S with my cat, never mind the police.”
But above everything, Lord Prescott seems to be relishing the political scrap his new role affords.
For his party, at least, he may prove to be the hero required to capitalise on the faltering policy of the PCCs.
“I want to see Labour win here,” he says, “And I am well known.
“Although as someone said to me the other day, ‘John, you are a bit of a Marmite figure: they either like you or they don’t’.”
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