First police commissioners chosen amid turnout concerns

 

David Cameron says voting numbers were "always going to be low"

Several former police officers have beaten party candidates in the first-ever elections for crime commissioners in England and Wales.

So far, Labour and the Conservatives have roughly split most contests, but independents won 11 of the 41 posts.

Voter turnout was historically low, leading the Electoral Commission to describe it as "a concern for everyone who cares about democracy".

With all ballots counted, turnout was about 14.9%, BBC research showed.

Prime Minister David Cameron said low turnout in a first-time election was expected.

"It takes time to explain a new post," the prime minister said, and he predicted voting numbers would be "much higher next time round".

The Conservatives have won 16, Labour 13 and independents 11, with one other successful candidate.

One of the most high-profile defeats was in Humberside where Labour former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott lost to Tory rival Matthew Grove.

Police and crime commissioners will have powers to hire and fire chief constables and set police strategy and budgets.

Lord Prescott Lord Prescott lost to his Conservative rival in Humberside

The government says PCCs will give local people more control over policing, but opponents have warned the changes will politicise the police - and low turnout shows people don't want them.

In other election developments on Friday:

The record low for a national poll in peacetime is the 23% turnout for the 1999 European elections.

Turnout in the PCC election was 12.9% in Merseyside, 13.3% in Thames Valley, and 13.5% in Greater Manchester. These figures include spoilt ballot papers.

Electoral Commission chairwoman Jenny Watson said: "These were new elections taking place at an unfamiliar time of year, which is why we have made clear at every stage that it would be important to engage effectively with voters.

"The government took a number of decisions about how to run these elections that we did not agree with. But what is important now is that the right lessons are learnt: we will talk to voters, candidates and returning officers to understand what worked and what didn't.

"The commission is going to undertake a thorough review, and we will present our findings to Parliament in early 2013."

Elections expert Professor John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, said it could be the worst turnout ever.

He added the elections "raised questions" about whether the whole exercise was worth it.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said a general apathy towards politics was to blame for the low turnout.

He said: "We are at a mid-term point in this government, there's a lot of difficult news around at the moment."

But Downing Street sources partly blamed the media, saying because the elections had not been held in London they had generated insufficient national news coverage.

"The national media have not covered themselves in glory," a No 10 source said.

Start Quote

The real flaw was something more fundamental - the voters were never persuaded they needed an elected police and crime commissioner”

End Quote

Home Secretary Theresa May said first elections were always difficult. "The police and crime commissioners are visible, they'll be accessible, they've been elected and crucially they will be accountable to people through the ballot box."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said many people had been cross about a lack of information, including what the job entailed and who the candidates were.

"It's not acceptable to be so careless with democracy, so careless with policing, but also so careless with money for the tax payer too."

Labour's Chuka Umunna called the elections "a total shambles", suggesting the £100m cost would have paid for 3,000 police officers.

Turnout reached 27.48% in the PCC election in Bristol, where voters were also going to the polls to choose the city's first directly-elected mayor, but across the Avon and Somerset police area as a whole it dropped to 19.58%.

Darren Hughes of the Electoral Reform Society said the PCC elections had started as a flagship government policy, but had descended into a "farce".

He said having an election in November was "crazy", but resourcing of the election needed to be addressed as well, so that candidates are able to cover areas larger than a usual constituency.

Residents of Wiltshire tell the BBC's Jon Kay why they did, and didn't, vote

One of successful independents in England, Ann Barnes, a former Kent Police Authority chairwoman, said the "real winners are the people of Kent who did not want their police force to be politicised".

In Dorset, successful candidate Mr Underhill said his "number one" priority was to hire a chief constable "with my vision".

"There's a lot to do in the first 100 days."

The first PCC for Lancashire, Labour's Clive Grunshaw, said it was a "new era for policing", while the North Yorkshire PCC, Conservative Julia Mulligan, said she intended to work hard "without political prejudice."

In Thames Valley, Anthony Stansfeld said after his election success: "I am a Conservative but I haven't had a gilded life. You grow up quickly commanding a platoon in the jungles of Borneo."

 

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1552.

    incredible, i had no idea this was even happening!
    in other circumstances i would have said it was my own ignorance and I would have owned up to that.

    but with such a low turnout i think many people didn't have a clue!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1551.

    Having a political party sponsored Police Commissioner is absolutely wrong. In Dyfed Powys we only had a choice of Tory or Labour, neither had police experience. What the job needed was somebody who was a proven administrator with real experience not a career politician or ex soldier. A waste of time and money.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1550.

    Being an ex police officer, I didn't vote, I believe it will become political, ie lab, tory lib dem will put their own twist on it, why didn't we have a referendum to see if people wanted them in the 1st place, why not leave alone, save money leave it as it was, they'll never be enough money to put enough bobbies on the beat. part gtimers won't work ie specials.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1549.

    Hold on a moment. I see the media is full of this story today because of the low turnout, but might it have helped to have covered more about it yesterday. I did not vote, not because of apathy, but because I hadn't enough information to go on. Yes, I read the website, but considering this is new new ground for all of us the information was insufficiency. I was ready, willing, but unable to vote!

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1548.

    Well, the Tories are missing the '80s when the police were their paramilitary wing. It's time to repoliticise our boys in blue and summon a new dawn of... oh dear, I don't think the Tories have been able to sustain anything since before Heath.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1547.

    I wonder how long it will be before one these political police commissioners gets arrested for corruption and/or fraud?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1546.

    Voted in every election since 18 but this one. Unless you went out of your way there was little information and explanation of what the role will be. I would have elected for a voice box which repeated the words " Catch more criminals and work harder" It would have saved a fortune. Tories let themselves down on this one.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 1545.

    I checked out our local candidates, none of whom I thought was suitable for the position, so I vote for none of them.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 1544.

    I think the Government deliberately failed to inform the public. This is not about democracy at all. Indeed, I honestly believe that most front-bench MPs despise democracy. It's about the financial elite assuming dictatorship to help themselves.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1543.

    Don't we elect politicians to make decisions for us? They should be more informed about who is best suited for this role. I don't ask them to do my daily job for me!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1542.

    Chris Mason of the BBC's Misinformation Dept rolls into town...
    "There was a perfect storm for a low turnout.

    Firstly, blah blah

    Secondly, blah blah

    Thirdly, blah blah"

    Analysis obv' doesn't include looking at what was being said by a large number of the electorate or what is being said by returning officers - lack of information, lack of choice and a HUGE "protest" at the whole thing.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1541.

    Pointless waste of money. If the winner is from a political party they will follow party lines, if independent they may/may not (probably latter) reflect my views. They WILL have a well-paid position. So, from my viewpoint, voting or not gives the same result. Just like any other type of election really.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1540.

    I went to my polling station in the Bishop Auckland area and spoiled my ballot paper, writing on it that I didn't agree with the idea of police commissioners and felt the election itself was a farce. I'd actually met the Labour candidate and was impressed by him. I felt he had integrity and would be good at the job and I'd read the other candidates statements. Spoilt ballots are not a mistake!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1539.

    20 year old student- didn't vote in protest against the introduction of party politics to a sphere that should be independent. Researched the candidates; Labour's devoted a page to bashing the government and suggesting he wouldn't work with them, the Conservative was a politician with no experience of policing. No apathy here- I decided that the best way to express my opinion was not to vote.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1538.

    1. "If you don't vote you can't complain" - so ridiculous. E.g. if my election choice is between a fathead and a liar, does voting make me wise? Does it mean they will listen to me more afterwards (especially if I voted for the loser)?
    2. Poeple fought wars so you could vote - really? People fight wars for many good reasons e.g for country, for peace, to maintain lifestyles. To vote for a PCC?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 1537.

    I dint vote, I thought this was a pointless exercise to create another non-job for £100,000 a year...to prioritise police? OK, catch the really bad criminals, cheque please? I with held my vote on purpose, if they want a true answer they should put, vote for none of the above, and allow us to make our displeasure known for all candidates!

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1536.

    Hmm. Don't hear any Tory shouts regarding the legitimacy of this vote given the very low turnout. Funny how the same Tories eagerly condemn the TU's when they ballot members for industrial action and a minority of members vote for a strike. Rules for the Tories and different ones for others ......nothing new then.

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 1535.

    I don't know who my local candidates were, what they stood for, their qualifications and what they would do with the job.
    I certainly had a concern that one of the jobs of the Commissioner is to hire and fire Chief Constables. In other words, "do as I say or I can sack you and bring in one of my yes men"? This could politicise the police. Who keeps tabs on what the Commissioner gets up to?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 1534.

    A job for a top policeman should never have been a vote based on promises.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 1533.

    Why are we voting to have a political orientated person to be in charge of our police force?
    The police should be neutral when it comes to politics.
    Plus I have no idea who the candidates are.

    Makes me think if the pleb incident would of gone the same way if a conservative commissioner was in place.

    Beware of meddling polititians.
    Yet another government FAIL.

 

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