Did the Government make a mistake when it created the post of Police and Crime Commissioner?
Commissioners were the brainchild of Theresa May, back when she was shadow home secretary. They were introduced by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition that came to power in 2010, and the first elections were held in 2012.
But West Midlands Conservatives have good reason to regret the decision.
In our region, the Commissioner has used the job as a platform to attack the Government - and he’s done it very effectively.
Police and Crime Commissioners are directly elected by voters to oversee their local police force, and the theory was that they would make police more accountable to the public.
Commissioners would take the credit, or the blame, for their force’s actions. And if voters thought their local commissioner had done a poor job, they could sack them by voting for someone else.
This isn’t how it’s worked out in practice.
West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson, and his predecessor Bob Jones, presided over huge cuts to the police service. The number of officers has fallen by 2,000.
But they certainly haven’t taken the blame.
Instead, they’ve used their position to ensure responsibility falls on the Conservative Government at Westminster (and before that, the Conservative-led Coalition).
In speeches, press releases, interviews and consultations, Mr Jamieson in particular has made the argument that the Government is failing to fund police forces properly.
He also says the Government is responsible for an inflation-busting increase in the council tax precept that he has imposed for the 2018-19 financial year.
For example, in a statement in February, he said: “I am disappointed the government is refusing to properly fund the policing here in the West Midlands.
“Instead, it is leaving it to the people of the West Midlands to part fund our own force.
“It should not be shifting its responsibilities on to local taxpayers at a time when everyone is feeling the squeeze.”
Good for him, some people might say.
It is, after all, a fact that central government funding for West Midlands Police has fallen significantly since 2010.
And while Mr Jamieson could theoretically have chosen to keep the police precept low, it’s easy to see why he felt a need to impose the maximum increase allowed, which is £12-a-year for a band D home.
Funding from central government has been frozen this year while costs have increased.
He arguably has little choice other than to raise as much money as he can from the council tax.
Mr Jamieson’s approach is understandable - but it can’t have been what Theresa May had in mind.
Far from taking responsibility, Mr Jamieson has given added moral authority to the Government’s critics.
They are able to cite his comments when attacking Conservative austerity policies. When West Midlands Labour MPs issue dire warnings about the impact of police cuts, they frequently quote him.
What seems to be forgotten is that Mr Jamieson is a Labour politician. He was actually Labour MP for Plymouth Devenport for 13 years.
There’s nothing strange about that. The Commissioner posts are elected, and the parties stand candidates.
Staffordshire, Warwickshire and West Mercia police forces all have Conservative Commissioners, for example.
Mr Jamieson is doing nothing wrong in attacking the government like a politician, because that’s what he is.
But his words carry extra weight because he’s not seen as a politician in the same way that an MP is.
Instead, he’s the personification of the police force, a body most of us instinctively trust and respect (even those of us who know that police sometimes make mistakes).
Conservative MPs launched a fightback in the House of Commons this week.
Solihull MP Julian Knight (Con) led a debate about plans to cut police stations in the region - and tried to pin the blame on Mr Jamieson.
He said: “I strongly believe that for local politicians to be held accountable, the devolution of power must be accompanied by the devolution of responsibility, including financial responsibility.
“The public elect representatives to take decisions, not simply to shift blame and demand more money from someone else.”
But whether he likes it or not, Mr Jamieson has indeed shifted the blame. The way Police and Crime Commissioners are set up made that easy.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the Government now plans to axe the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner and hand his powers instead to the West Midlands Mayor, a post currently held by Conservative former businessman Andy Street.