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22 November 2012

Record low turn out for PCC elections

Record low turn out for PCC elections

Unusually for November, elections were held last week in most parts of England and Wales. Every police force area outside London voted for a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) to oversee the budget and strategy of policing in their area. Alongside these votes three by-elections and the race for Bristol's mayoralty were settled.

Turnout across the country was very low, failing to even meet the Electoral Reform Society's low prediction. On average turnout was 15 per cent, with Staffordshire recording only 11.6 per cent and Northamptonshire's 20 per cent topping the chart. Following the poor showing speculation focused on the timing of the election and the new posts created by the coalition government.

Liberal Democrat leader and deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, had apparently opposed the PCC elections being held in May alongside local election as he feared a vote on crime and policing issues would jeopardise his party's electoral chances. However, the autumnal ballot meant a dark evening which likely discouraged voters from casting their vote after work.

There was also a widespread lack of engagement with the introduction of these posts, or understanding for quite what purpose they had been created. Several high profile candidates had to pull out of the race because of criminal convictions in their youth, while several MPs resigned their seats to fight for the new posts.

The two seats vacated by sitting MPs were also decided last week, both safely returning new Labour MPs to replace those taking up new posts. A further by-election was caused by the resignation of Louise Mensch who was only elected to parliament in 2010. The Conservative MP decided she could not balance her family life with the lifestyle of being an MP. Her resignation cost the Conservative party a marginal seat which the Labour party easily took hold of. UKIP picked up a large number of votes and pushed the Liberal Democrats into fourth place, which after a recount lost their deposit.

The most notable feature of the Police and Crime Commissioner results was the rise of independent candidates. Across the 41 police force areas voting, 12 elected independents alongside 16 Conservative and 13 Labour winners. The Conservatives and the Labour Party stood in every area while the Liberal Democrats failed to win in any of the 24 places they ran a candidate. Among the independents who won their contests were several former police officers, a pilot and a senior barrister. In Warwickshire ex-pilot Ron Ball defeated James Plaskitt who had previously been a Government minister under Tony Blair.

The government hope that when the current commissioners run for re-election the public will have become more aware of their role and responsibilities and will therefore be more inclined to vote. There are also concerns that the elections could subject the police to party political influence and affect policing decisions which might favour one party over another. The Government, have however, been quite clear that the commissioners will not have any role on day to day policing matters but will focus on strategic direction and overall budget control, the ground decisions will be left to the chief constable.

Following referendums in May most cities rejected the idea of having a directly elected mayor. The only city to back the move was Bristol, and at the election last week another independent candidate, George Fergusson, won ahead of Labour candidate Marvin Rees.

   Photo credit: West Midlands Police via Creative Commons