Words don't exist in the English language that adequately describe the mess the government made of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. For a flagship policy, I cannot think of anything the Tories have done that quite matches the amateurishness that has accompanied its implementation. The national leaflet that was supposed to go out explaining the policy and powers of a PCC was not delivered to large swathes of Stoke-on-Trent (and, I presume, the country). The usual mechanisms supporting elections, like Royal Mail-delivered mail shots and party election broadcasts were not used. And calling the elections smack bang in the middle of November was unbelievable stupidity from the stupid party. In fact, the only way this shambles makes any sort of sense is if you ask whether Dave wanted his centrepiece reform to fail.
Well, if the Tories set out to treat this exercise as a very public inquiry into how low a vote can go when you starve it of publicity and hold it at the beginning of winter, the results are in. And what a farce they reveal.
In Northamptonshire, there was little evidence of a Corby by-election bounce with a PCC contest turnout of 19.5%. The same was true of Greater Manchester and South Wales policing areas, with only 13.6% and 14.7% of voters turning out. Or, thinking about it, perhaps these results have benefited from a by-election bounce!
It's not the case Tory areas saw a turnout edge over Labour areas either. Tory Essex, Hertfordshire and North Yorkshire racked up massive returns of 12.8%, 14.1%, and 13.2%. But there were a couple of strange results, again, thanks to the turnout. Dyfed Powys saw the closest straight Tory/Labour fight go to the blue corner with 50.86% of the vote (turnout 16.9%). In Suffolk, Labour *won* the popular vote on first preferences, but after distribution it went to the Tories again. But most remarkably, Bedfordshire went to Labour's Olly Martins on a 17.7% turnout. Could repercussions from Nadine's antipodean antics be to blame?
It's difficult to say. In fact, because of the feeble levels of participation it is very hard to read anything into the results at all. Except for two things. The election of 12 independent candidates off the back of 22.4% of the popular vote is worth pausing for thought. Certainly, there is something about the character of these elections that favours independents in ways few other contests do. If you are rich enough to clamber over the outer ditch of the £5,000 deposit and then scale the wall of recruiting to and resourcing a campaign over a police area, the message that policing should not be left to the politicians goes down well. It rubs along nicely with the myth that British policing is "non-political" and that an independent would keep it that way. It also taps into the widespread anti-politics and anti-party sentiment that now has sunk deep roots in British political culture. Far from writing independent success off as a flash in the pan, their results should be taken as a wake up call by parties in general and Labour particularly. When we talk about "reconnecting" and "reengagement", we have to mean it if we want to reverse this trend.
The second is the meaning of the turnout. This was not your standard 'I can't be arsed' second order election, it was something more. Large numbers did not receive literature of any kind, be it party political or otherwise. Quite rightly, as the parties hadn't bothered to address them they, in turn, weren't going to support them. Matters were not helped by the government's ghost PCC leaflet either. There were also large numbers of active boycotters - more than I have seen in any other campaign. When was the last time you say thousands of spoiled ballot papers? Again, this wasn't the common 'you're all the same' refrain, it was a deep disagreement with the PCC position. Partly because of "non-political" arguments, but mainly due to the immense waste of money the whole exercise represents in a period of supposedly-necessary austerity. It didn't wash with the people, and the majority chose not to dignify it with their endorsement.
All this brings me nicely to Staffordshire. Despite the Herculean labours of our candidate Joy Garner and those of her county-wide campaign team, the lessons and experiences of the above apply here. As I am a gentleman, it's not above me to congratulate Cllr Matthew Ellis on his win. But with the lowest PCC turn out in the country (11.6%) and the support of 6% of eligible voters across the county, our new Staffordshire Police and Crime Commissioner is literally a man without a mandate.
Needless to say, Labour will be scrutinising him very closely and that also means you, dear reader, won't be seeing the back end of him any time soon.