Police and crime commissioner elections dubbed 'a shambles'

By staff writers
16 Nov 2012

The 15 November elections for police and crime commissioners across England and Wales are being denounced as 'shambolic', and the Home Secretary is being asked to consider urgent alternatives.

Though full figures are not in yet, it is clear that this will go down in history as one of the lowest - if not the lowest ever - turnouts in a UK election in history.

Statistics so far indicate that turnout was 14.3 per cent in Gwent, 13.5 per cent in Greater Manchester, with some West Midlands councils reporting 12-13 per cent.

In Wiltshire, where 15.3 er cent - 78,794 people out of a total electorate of 514,855 - voted, returning officer Stephen Taylor said some people had complained about a lack of information, reports the BBC.

The previous record low in a national poll in peacetime is 23 per cent in the 1999 European Parliament elections.

Leading political reform group Unlock Democracy said this morning: "We’ve been struck by the level of outrage from our supporters about how poorly run these elections have been, and about the posts of police and crime commissioners themselves. Many of you are quite clearly furious at the situation."

Home Secretary Theresa May will now be under immediate pressure to replace the current system with a better alternative.

Unlock Democracy questioned the introduction of police and crime commissioners since they were first proposed, but also worked hard to get out information about the elections and to encourage people to vote.

However a combination of apathy, lack of understanding and a boycott of elections seen as placing great power in the hands of individuals of varying levels of experience has led to tiny turnouts at the polls.

Alexandra Runswick, deputy director of Unlock Democracy, commented this morning: "While the aim of placing the police under greater local accountability and scrutiny is laudable, we question whether the best option is to vest all those powers in the hands of a single person, and whether crime prevention should be siloed off from other related public services such as health and youth services."

"In particular, we have grave concerns over the way they have been imposed on the public," she continued. "With elected mayors, local people have the choice over whether to have them or not; police commissioners were just foisted on local people. It’s almost as if the policy was set up to fail: as well as holding the elections at one of the worst times of the year, the government even refused to send out election statements to all households free of charge, as is done with elections for mayors, the Welsh assembly and the House of Commons."

"As an organisation which exists to encourage democratic engagement, we never celebrate low participation in elections. The dreadful turnout for this poll should serve as the clearest signal yet that this policy is a failure and must be revisited by the government," she added.

The Electoral Reform Society has also branded the government's handling of the elections a "comedy of errors".

Opposition spokesperson Chuka Umunna commented: "It has been a total shambles and the £100 million spent on this could have been spent on 3,000 police officers."

It seems likely that the government will attempt to 'tough out' the situation, claiming that however few voted, those elected have a mandate.

Policing minister Damian Green says the PCCs are simply a new idea that people will need time to get used to.

But critics say such complacency and incompetence is unacceptable, and that the way the police and crime commissioner elections have been imposed and conducted is an "insult to democracy".

[Ekk/3]

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