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.