On the police commissioner campaign trail with John Prescott as he addresses the (not quite) masses in Hull's main square
Subtract the three Union officials, the nine badge wearing local party members and the city's three Labour MPs - including former Home Secretary Alan Johnson – from the total at the John Prescott for Police and Crime Commissioner rally in Hull's Queen Victoria Square, and the is attendance figure is hovering around the zero mark.
To make matters worse, the campaign team have affixed their vast, yellow SAVE OUR POLICE (Wrong Cuts, Wrong Time) banner to the exterior wall of the ladies' public toilets, and the leaflet wielding Labourati are dispensing their literature less than a foot from the entrance. “Would you mind reading this madame?” asks one, of a passing shopper in her sixties. “I don't want a leaflet,” comes the curt response. “I want a wee.”
The Baron Prescott of Kingston upon Hull in the County of East Yorkshire, now in his seventy fifth year, doesn't look amused. “Why have they put you by the bogs Jon?” asks another, stopping to photograph him. “Are you going to clean up crime and the ladies toilets? That I would vote for.”
On the last day before the country's first ever Police Commissioner elections, it's 10am, it's bitterly cold, and within half an hour, the Labour Candidate for Humerbside will have come perilously close to another fist fight with a member of the public.
Concerns have been widely expressed that the elections will politicise the police force. It is patently obvious why. “These elected Commissioners will have a fair amount of power,” Alan Johnson told The Independent. “The power to hire and fire the chief constable for a start. The power to decide the budget. Now we wish these elections weren't happening, but we are at least trying to elect people - our candidates- who will act in apolitical way.”
Not, evidently, as far as Lord Prescott is concerned. “There are 30 million people voting tomorrow,” he says, having taken to the microphone (With turnout expected to be around 18 per cent, less than a sixth of that number are likely to do so). “This is not just about the police. This is a referendum on everything this incompetent government has done so far. On the health, on the education, on the local authorities. Don't tax the millionaires. Cut resources. Reduce wages.” Next up are his own, very personal issues, with the press, at which point he holds up a copy of the Sun and segues into fluent Prescottian.
“If the police want to cut crime, close the bloody Sun down because they're committing the crime, they're bribing the Police, they're tapping the phones. And they were in Liverpool as well, not just the Met area. They were in Yorkshire as well. Do you remember, that terrible tragedy at Hillsbury (sic)? It was The Sun that came out for the illegal. They didn't think it was illegal. They were the ones that supported it. That's why they don't buy The Sun in Liverpool.”
Baron Prescott's manifesto promises to stop Coalition cuts to 440 police jobs, and introduce a “late night levy” on problem pubs. “It's time to take back our town centres from drunken thugs for families and the elderly,” an issue that could hardly be more timely, as he is interrupted by a man in a baseball cap, visibly drunk at 11am, who breaks through one of the many wide gaps in the single line of listeners, raises two fingers and shouts: “You don't do fuck all.”
“Oh yeah? Come here and say something,” is Lord Prescott's reply. “We've got to do something about you lads. This is the case with the problem round here.”
“I'm not a problem. You're the fucking problem,” comes the reply. “You don't fucking do nowt.”
Karl Tucker, the newly elected MP for Hull East, tries to drag him off, but is stopped in his tracks. “Leave him, leave him, Leave him alone, he's one of the problems I've got to deal with.”
Eventually he's led away, to some gentle derision: “Thanks very much. You've just made my point. I promise you I didn't pay him to come.”
The man turns and comes back for another go, not realising he is trying to force his way part the Former Humberside Police Chief Superintendent Keith Hunter, there in support of Prescott, and the member for Hull East, red Labour scarf swinging with some menace, is tougher than he looks.
Baron Prescott has campaigned hard across a constituency with more than 700,000 voters, and he is likely to win, but with a very limited mandate, at least according to the former Home Secretary, Alan Johnson. “John deserves an award for standing in this election. Without him nobody would know these elections were happening. But this wasn't in the Conservatives' manifesto, nor the Lib Dems. No one voted for this. People won't turn out. If there were a place on the ballot form that said 'None of the above because I oppose the concept', I'm sure that would win across the country. If the turnout is under 20 per cent, people will need to make the next four years a consultation about doing the whole thing again. If it hasn't got public backing, why are we ploughing away at something that's not working?” We shall just have to wait and see.
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