Wakey, wakey! It’s PCC election day in England and Wales. You hadn’t forgotten, had you?

Election day is usually a day when, if you’re at all interested/involved in politics, the pulse quickens, the blood pumps faster, the adrenaline kicks in. With all due respect to the sane candidates standing for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner (and naturally with very best wishes to those Lib Dems flying the party’s flag in England) today just doesn’t feel right.* In fact, it feels like a damp squib.

I think that’s a shame for two reasons.

First, voting matters. It’s perhaps the purest, most powerful way in which an individual can show their commitment to engaging in society — because while my vote on its own almost certainly won’t matter, our collective votes will. There is a humility and respect in voting, a recognition that all citizens are equal and that those who govern us have legitimacy only once they have persuaded a critical mass of their peers. Lots of people use lots of excuses for not voting. I’ve heard them all and have zero time for any of them. ‘Decisions are made by those who show up.’

Secondly, these posts matter. I’m a rarity among Lib Dems: I support elected PCCs as a way of introducing clear public accountability to our already-politicised policing. How do I know I’m a rarity? Because our recent survey showed just 15% agree with my view. Yet agree or disagree with the principle, everyone accepts these posts will have real power, so we should — all of us, not just the few of us who are weird obsessives inhabiting political blogs — absolutely care what happens and who gets elected today.

Alas, turnout is predicted to be low, perhaps just 15%. If that forecast becomes reality expect plenty of people to question the democratic mandate of the elected PCCs, though I’d be surprised if, once established, the posts were scrapped. There’s only one thing more controversial than introducing new forms of democracy and that’s abolishing existing democratic structures.

We can predict that low turn-outs will see fingers pointed at the Lib Dems — it was our party, after all, who insisted on delaying the elections six months beyond the usual first Thursday of May, to mid-November, ostensibly to separate the vote from the more party political local polls taking place. I suspect this was in part a way of thumbing our noses at the Tories’ insistence on the creation of these posts, though the shabby result is likely to be depressed turnout.

But the bigger slice of blame should attach to Tory ministers, who fearful these elections would be tainted as an extravagant vanity project, refused to permit freepost election addresses to candidates contesting these elections. I don’t suppose I’m by any means alone in having received not a single leaflet from any of the six candidates standing in Thames Valley, where I live. There are certain basic requirements for a functioning democracy and allowing candidates the opportunity to tell voters their policies is a basic one.

* NB: voters in Corby, Cardiff South & Penarth and Manchester Central at least have the excitement of a traditional British by-election to get their juices flowing, a prospect I’m sure all denizens of said communities have alighted on with alacrity.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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16 Comments

  • John Richardson 15th Nov '12 - 1:33pm

    Ah this post is a breath of fresh air. There are too many people trying to kid themselves that policing is not already politicised. These are important roles and our police forces are going to be run by today’s winners for the next four years. Bad enough half the country has no Lib Dem candidate but I despair even more about the number of liberal minded people who are planning to spoil their ballots or not vote at all. They’re doing nothing but making it easier for less desirable candidates to get themselves elected.

  • Not one candidate has bothered in my area, no leaflet, no canvassing..zilch. I’ll vote but none of them really deserve 5 minutes of my time do they ?

    Elections cause disruption, my daughters school is closed for the day leading to childcare costs etc (and why the teachers are not made to take this as a training / non pupil I’ll never know). Every election I tell those who moan about these things that the democratic process is more important than one day at school, but it’s not an argument that holds water at our school gates for these elections. It’s shocking that even the Tories whose grand plan this is cannot be bothered to put a leaflet through my door or make any play for my vote.

    I am interested in politics but for those that aren’t these elections could just sail by.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Nov '12 - 2:11pm

    People aren’t interested, are they? Living in London where we aren’t having a PCC election I wasn’t sure how it was going down elsewhere, but a visit to friends and family elsewhere last weekend suggested it was not just lack of interest but actual anger. The anger was because people have no idea what the issues are, who is standing, what they are voting for, and so feel they can’t make an informed choice. If you are asked to make a choice but not given the information needed to do so, you feel you are being conned – you feel that whether you leave it for others to make the choice for you, or feel you have to make a choice but make one out of ignorance and later find it was a bad one, it will be used against you at a later date, somehow the blame for what went wrong will be pushed on you and you will be forced to pay for the consequences. It is similar to the way extreme free market theory doesn’t work and leads to stress and anxiety – there are goods and services people like to have a market to choose from, but there are other things where people resent being told they have to spend time and effort playing at being wheeler dealers to find the best deal and “yah booh sucks, loser!” if you lose out because you made a poor choice out of ignorance. On things like energy supply and health care, pension provision, I think most people would prefer to be able to turn to the nearest local supplier and have a state guarantee that it’s the best, rather than play the market.

    One reason why people are starting to shift that way is active experience of being conned by the big private suppliers. If the market theory worked, there wouldn’t be this big PPI thing going on, people would have seen it was a bad deal from the start. But most people have better things to do in their lives than play at finance market traders. They want someone else to do that job for them, as they do with things like decisions on supply of health care, and perhaps policing.

    With democracy there is a limit – there is a real and understandable fear that it’s being used to accumulate evidence that will be taken and used against you – “We didna ken” – “Well ye ken noo” [*].

    I think we should see this as a clear indication that the creation of these posts is a mistake. People feel it should not be politicised, on the other hand how can you make a meaningful choice between candidates without a political party label which at least gives you some sense of what the candidate stands for? The actual role of these posts is not clear, and is quite a specialised one – under these circumstances I feel an indirect choice made with careful consideration by people one feels one can trust is better than a share in a direct choice where one has not the knowledge to be able to do it as one would wish, and actually not the time either to plough through the details.

    Had this directly elected PCC thing been introduced at Liberal Democrat insistence, can you imagine how the press would be tearing at us now about its obvious failure and its expense? They are keeping quiet because it was a Tory thing, perhaps also because it fits in with certain ideas in society over whose growth we should be worried (the lines used to support these directly elected posts, are uncomfortably close to lines used in other times and places against the very idea of liberal democracy).

    The system whereby we elect representatives with a broad remit at local, national and international level seems to me to be enough. I have written at length elsewhere plenty enough about the importance too of power ultimately being shared by an assembly of representatives rather than placed in the hands of one person. An assembly may indeed delegate much of its formal executive role to an individual over whom it has oversight – that is the established pattern in this country. However, I feel it better that the assembly appoints and can dismiss and replace this individual – a Prime Minister losing a vote of confidence, a council leader likewise – than that power is put directly into the hands of a directly elected individual – a dictator at national level, a mayor at local level. We Liberals have long stood for proportional representation because we understand this principle. One directly elected individual is the very opposite of the proportional representation idea, it is simply against what Liberals should be – and indeed until recently were – about.

  • Matthew Huntbach 15th Nov '12 - 2:32pm

    Steve Way

    Not one candidate has bothered in my area, no leaflet, no canvassing..zilch. I’ll vote but none of them really deserve 5 minutes of my time do they ?

    But how can they “bother”? Do you suppose one person can deliver leaflets across a whole county single-handedly? do you suppose one person can afford to pay others to deliver leaflets across a whole county?

    A good lesson that can be learnt from this is that democracy as we have it at present can only work if sufficient people volunteer to make it work, and right now they don’t – the political parties simply do not have enough members to be able to run democracy as it ought to be run.

    My experience is that most people in this country don’t understand that. They somehow think the political parties are like a branch of government, well funded and so with a duty to provide election campaigns. I remember once when I was delivering election leaflets as sometimes happens I was working the street just behind the postman. We happened to exchange pleasantries as we passed, and I made some sort of remark on the lines of “You get paid for this, but I don’t”. The man was astonished – it really was a massive surprise to him to find political literature is distributed by volunteers and not be people paid to do it.

  • @Matthew Huntbach
    “But how can they “bother”? ”

    Your point is OK for independents, but not for major party candidates. They bother when it is council elections, general elections, AV votes etc. What the main three parties are saying is that these elections do not matter, if that was the case they should have stayed out of them. If they don’t matter enough to actually compete in, then they shouldn’t matter enough to cost parents extra childcare expense by closing our schools to hold them.

    I personally believe the whole idea is flawed but would as it is going ahead surely it should have been a case of take part with heart and soul or not bother…

  • David Allen 15th Nov '12 - 5:07pm

    “blame should attach to Tory ministers, who … refused to permit freepost election addresses”

    Maybe, but, I suspect a freepost would still have left most voters none the wiser. In a general election, the freepost reminds you about the genuine and important differences between the candidates. On the PCC website, however, you’ll find that most of the candidate statements are indistinguishable platitudes. That’s probably because it is a complex, responsible job. So, the few candidates who do try to make simple, bold statements and claims only succeed in looking shallow or eccentric. As an election, this just doesn’t fly!

  • Roger Roberts 15th Nov '12 - 5:13pm

    Can I just ask folk to consider part my recent House of lords speech on this issue.

    As to the postal ballot papers that are being issued, in the previous Parliament I campaigned to ensure that members of the Armed Forces then in Iraq and in Afghanistan now received ballot papers to allow them to take part in any election. There is not a chance that they will be able to do that now. There is something seriously wrong with our democracy when we deny people who are fighting for our freedoms the right to vote for the party of their choice.
    of
    To divert a little-I make no apology for this-how will candidates access the electors in their constituencies? Greater Manchester has 2 million people-I do not know whether that is the number of voters-so how are the candidates standing there going to get in touch with those 2 million people? Liverpool has 1 million people and North Wales has about 500,000 people: who will be able to contact these people with details of the candidates and their policies; how will they get through? There is no free post but a polling card was sent out about two weeks ago. That could have been used to provide at least a page from each of the candidates standing in the various constituencies-as they do in London mayoral elections-but nothing came.

    No one will be able to say that this is a fair election. They may say, “It will be on the internet” but 8 or 9 million people have no access to the internet. How will those people know who is standing, which party they belong to and what are their proposals for policing in their particular area? It could have been so different.

    Only the wealthy or well-funded candidates in North Wales-which is only a small electorate-could possibly afford £50,000 to mail people in their areas. No ordinary person-certainly no independent person-will be able to afford this. So some candidates will have access because they have money; others will be unable to afford access. Would there not be a case for a legal challenge to the results when they are announced? Someone will have to think that through thoroughly.

  • >Elections cause disruption, my daughters school is closed for the day

    At least parents of affected schools know there are elections!
    Local newspapers have covered them, but how many people read them? Mine has published election addresses by the candidates that tell you nothing. ‘Putting the victim first’ for instance.
    BBC 6pm news tonight gave the elections 30 seconds almost at the end of the programme. I know they can’t say much on election day, but even so…
    They may be stuff on social media, but you have to know where to look to find it, if you knew there was something to look for.

    All the people I know are indeed angry about it. They didn’t ask for these posts, they don’t understand them, they have no idea who the candidates are or what they stand for. Most have been debating whether to not vote at all or to spoil their ballot paper.

    I DID vote. Two bored women behind the desk seemed delighted to have a ‘customer’. I joked about not being the first, one said: “No… and hopefully not the last”. This was at 3pm.
    The notices on the door about what happens if there are queues at 10pm seemed rather silly!

  • Tony Dawson 15th Nov '12 - 7:53pm

    “the bigger slice of blame should attach to Tory ministers, who fearful these elections would be tainted as an extravagant vanity project, refused to permit freepost election addresses ”

    How can anyone taint the elections for being ‘an extravagant vanity project’ when all they are is ‘an extravagant vanity project’.

    That is if you don’t treat them as an act of conspiracy to pour hundreds of thousands of pounds into the pockets of John Prescott to supplement his Minister’s Pension while he meddles with police in Humberside.

  • Stephen Donnelly 15th Nov '12 - 11:09pm

    @Matthew. Edit your darlings, some of your posts are longer than the main article. I agree with you though, there is no mandate, because there has not been due process. Lots of Labour people will get elected, because they are in opposition.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 16th Nov '12 - 1:04pm

    The government failed conspicuously to explain to people the reasons for introducing directly elected PCCs. The only organisation, so far as I am aware, which attempted to do so was The Times newspaper which ran a series of leading articles supporting the change and urging its readers to vote.

    The lack of a freepost facility made it all but impossible for independent candidates to campaign effectively in such huge constituencies. This should have given an advantage to those candidates who were backed by well organised political parties. In my area, no political party took advantage of that (perhaps that’s partly because only one of them now has anything remotely resembling an effective organisation on the ground). I received one leaflet (from the Tory) four or five weeks before polling day. It was pretty dire. As the opening or final shot in a multi-leaflet campaign, it might have had some value; as the sole leaflet it was too little too early.

    The (weekly) local paper devoted quite a lot of space to the election over three consecutive editions with profiles of the six candidates, summaries of their views , letters to the editor (several of them from people who intended to spoil their ballot papers) and a report of a hustings meeting.

    From the information available to me, I concluded that , as an employer, I would not have short-listed any one of the six wannabees for any job carrying anything like the salary of a PCC.. I have a postal vote. Rather than contribute to the notional turn-out by returning a blank or spoilt ballot paper, I shredded it.

    I hope that politicians will not now attribute the low turn-out to “apathy”. The whole concept and process was flawed from start to finish. By shunning the ballot boxes yesterday, the British people spoke far more eloquently than they could have done by turning out and voting for whoever they perceived to be the “least worst” of the candidates.

    I hope that the government will listen. I fear that it will not. My sympathies are with Chief Constables who will have to work with the nonentities who emerge as “winners” from this farce.

  • Wakey, Wakey!? anyone if the right honourable members for parliament had consulted wider and ensured more information then more would have voted. However, I did not vote not only because I had no information but because I do not believe this is a good idea. Senior police officers in the region are not going to be subject to voting pressures to direct the limited resources they have. hey will integrate their policing strategies according to national and local priorities and I consider they are best placed to make these decisions not elected locals. PCC basically calls into question the integrity of the existing Panels and police chiefs. What next? Elected members to govern local military installations instead of the Unit Commanders ? This was a bad idea and the voters have voiced their concerns by staying away. maybe Parliament will acknowledged this was flawed and scrap the PCC ideas.

  • I’m also in Thames Valley area and I got my hands on leaflets from 3 different candidates (although only one was actually delivered to me). After visiting my local polling station at 2 minutes to 10pm I can report non-postal voter turnout was below 8%.

    According to the local grapevine, rather than being supported by his party the successful Conservative candidate calculated on offsetting the cost of his literature from the income he is set to receive in the post – which is more than an MP!

    Maybe this explains the refusal to allow freepost election addresses – can’t have helped Royal Mail!

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