We have been experiencing one of the warmest Autumns on record, I should imagine. I was in London last Friday walking around in just a shirt and T-shirt. As we all know, weather can influence whether people come out to vote or not. It is likely to be the case that this had an impact on the November 2012 Police & Crime Commissioner elections. However, last Thursday in South Yorkshire was a pretty fine day, I think.
The turnout in the election was 14.65%. This is marginally more than November 2012 when it was 14.53%. Given the PCC role is unique, it is difficult to compare this by-election to any other. But for a moment imagine that Boris Johnson had stepped down in similar circumstances to Shaun Wright. The turnout in the London Mayoral election in 2012 was 38.1% (down from 45.33% four years previous).
In such circumstances would you expect the turnout to go up? Or down? Or remain about the same? I would expect a significant increase in turnout. At the very least, probably more people would be aware an election was happening.
To return to South Yorkshire: here was a case where the electorate were choosing someone to oversee the response of the police service to a range of great local controversies: Rotherham, Hillsborough & Orgreave. The issue of Child Sexual Abuse was (and remains) 'off the scale' hot, in political terms (and rightly so).
So please tell me: how is it that only a few more people came out the vote? I predicted that there ought to be at least a comparable turnout to an ordinary local government election. But there wasn't. The turnout fell far short of this.
So to summarise, South Yorkshire had:
- 2 years in to the new PCC role
- a previously high profile and now shamed incumbent
- very active campaigning by all parties involved, especially UKIP who appear to have thrown buckets of money at the campaign
- wide coverage in national and local newspapers
- clear explanations of the role of the PCC - including their role to oversee the Chief Constable and the whole police performance
- generally a highly charged political context involving the abuse of children and young people
- several other issues of great concern
And even with all of this....! The turnout was just bumped up a little more than the very low turnout last time.
If there is anyone left who thinks the PCC role is a credible structure for holding the police service to democratic account because it is based upon a public vote... please let me know.
This by-election, more than any other, will surely now mean that the PCC experiment is consigned to the history books at the earliest opportunity. If it remains without root & branch reform, then this will show that a future government is just not listening to the public.
What do you think?
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