Serious questions over record low turnout at PCC elections

The PCCs will aim to keep police in line
The PCCs will aim to keep police in line

By Charles Maggs

The Electoral Commission is to launch an investigation into the record low turnout in the police and crime commissioner elections that took place across England and Wales yesterday.

Forty-one new post are being created to hold the police to account, but turnout in many areas is reportedly as low as 15% - in Staffordshire less than 12% bothered to vote.

The elections have been branded a total waste of money by shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna

"It has been a total shambles and the £100 million spent on it could have been spent on 3,000 police officers," he said.

"At least if you are going to have the elections, organise them properly and don't have them in the middle of winter."

The Electoral Reform Society described the government's handling of the vote as a "comedy of errors".

One of the archetects of the elections Lord Wasserman suggested that blame for the apathy should not be directed towards the government.

"I'm sad but not at all surprised at the low turnout," he said.

"There's been a lot of pressure from people opposed to the elections telling people to stay at home."

The timing of the elections, coming as they have in November rather than the traditional election month of May, has also gone some way to explain why so many voters abandoned the poll.

Independents did increadably well, with seven of the results announced so far going to candidates not affiliated with any party. 

Angus Macpherson was the first new commissioner to be returned in Wiltshire, on a turnout of under 16% - meaning only around 5% of the electorate actually voted for their new police chief.

The record for the lowest turnout before yesterday was in the 1999 European Parliamentary elections - when just 23% of the public bothered to vote - but that appears to have been broken as some polling stations registered turnout in single figures, including in Newcastle where one ballot box had only three votes in it.

Such a low turnout is sure to bring into question the legitimacy of the new commissioners, who will have the power to hire and fire chief constables and set the priorities for police forces across England and Wales and will all be earning upwards of £75,000.

Many have argued that the new posts will politicise policing, including civil rights campaign group Liberty.

"With sole concentration of power in one elected individual this Act is fundamentally flawed," the group said.

"Dangerous levels of political interference with operational policing are almost certain.

"The strength of UK police forces rests fundamentally on complete independence from partisan politics and, above all else, accountability to the rule of law."

Meanwhile Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg has questioned the effectiveness of what he called an electoral "experiment".

"No boby really knows how it's worked, £100 million would seem to be a high price to pay for this," he said.


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