It’s early morning. You’re half awake as you listen to a discussion about tackling gang crime on the radio. Who is on? Someone from the police, a victim, perhaps a politician – and very often, an ex-gang member who has turned into a zealous and effective crime-fighter.
It isn’t just about gangs: across many areas of crime there is fantastic work being done by criminals who have repented. Does that mean I trust all ex-criminals? Of course not. Does it mean some ex-criminals know an awful lot more about how to fight crime than most of us? Absolutely.
Which is why I agree with the core of what Mark Thompson has written about the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. What matters much more in them in transparency – if an ex-con wants to stand for election, the knowledge of their past is a key factor in voters making an informed choice. Rather than the race to be the toughest and ban people even from standing for the most minor of offences decades ago, it would be much better if the general attitude was one of transparency – let the public know and let the public decide.
I’ll be honest and say I’m not sure quite how far I’d take this; I can see a good case that, for example, the current situation in which someone guilty of serious electoral fraud can’t then go straight back and contest the next election has its merits. As a general principle, however, the rules do too much in trying to second-guess who would make a good candidate and not enough in letting the public know and decide for themselves.
Living in London, there are no contests due where I am. However, I can think of at least one ex-criminal who, if they were on the ballot paper as a Police and Crime Commissioner candidate, I would happily go and campaign for – in part because their past would make them better at the job.