So here we are, exactly one week before the (not very well) publicised Police and Crime Commissioner Elections.
The ‘what’, many of you will be saying, well many of you that aren’t ‘in the job’ because, and let’s face it, if you aren’t, or haven’t felt the need to carry out the online equivalent of sticking pins in your eyes by following our continual harping on about this delusional fiasco, is ‘What on Earth is it all about’ ?
It’s a good question ….. and oddly enough one that I’ve been asked more than once the last couple of weeks by people at jobs I’ve attended. A strange diversion of conversation when you’re in the middle of taking a statement about their house burglary or assault, but it would appear that the bobby in their living room is the only point of direct reference they have had … and we do have the word ‘POLICE’ stapled to our backs !
It seems people have caught the odd advert in the middle of watching Coronation Street or have seen a snippet on the news, but that is the extent of the knowledge sharing on what is billed as the ‘biggest shakeup of policing in a generation’ or something like that.
I’m not sure these people entirely believed my when I said “Sorry, can’t talk about that, more than my jobs worth” preceded by a loud and sharp intake of breath a la some dodgy second hand car salesman you’ve just asked for a discount.
And when I clarified by saying “Well you see, police officers are prohibited from interacting with anyone involved in the elections, can’t talk to the candidates or their representatives, can’t say anything in case that might accidentally suggest we favour one person over another, or we’ll get disciplined … even possibly sacked” I got looked at like I’d suddenly grown three heads !!
Of course, and bearing in mind I was currently sat with nice, normal sane, intelligent people, I got asked questions like “Well how will you know who you have to vote for yourself then ?”. Cue the raised hands and shrugged shoulders moment.
And therein lies the point. There is a week to go and not a single knock on my door or leaflet through the letterbox to tell me what’s going on …… and I don’t expect for one moment that I’m the only one in that position so to speak.
Not that I would be able to speak to anyone if they did knock my door anyway. If by chance you are a PCC candidate or representative and you knock a door in the next few days, and the person who answers appears unable to speak, looks panic-stricken and slams the door in your face, that may be me, and I apologise profusely, but I might lose my job you see
And I somehow think that this is exactly the position someone up top wants us to be in, as explained very nicely by the reply when I merely pointed out to my victims that there will be some candidates from the Conservatives, some from Labour, might be some LibDem’s and the odd Independent candidate to two thrown in here and there.
The reply ?? “Well I’ll vote for ***** then because that’s what I did at the election”
And that is exactly what this is going to boil down to for a good many people – in the absence of any rational information or debate to lay down all the information, policies and practicalities, the few that do bother to vote will, for the majority, err along established party political lines, because that’s how they’ve always voted. Is that the best (or proper) way ?? …. and where does it leave all the Independent candidates, who seemingly have been disadvantaged in the poor publicity process ??
The Electoral Reform Society has said the Government has some serious questions to answer, regarding the predicted lowest turnout of any nationwide election in British history. They will have cost a massive £75m, but evidence suggests that we can only hope for a turnout of around 18.5% – the lowest ever. Whilst the government argue that the first election is ‘always difficult’. The Electoral Reform Society has said evidence from previous ‘first time’ elections clearly demonstrate this argument isn’t a ‘get out of jail free card’.
In addition we’ve seen £350,000 worth of English-only ballot papers shredded in Wales due to an administrative error in not making them bilingual.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society said:
“To make one mistake in this election could have been regarded as misfortune. To make the dozen or so blunders the Home Office have made to date just looks careless. There have been epic mistakes in every last detail of this election – from timing that will keep most voters at home, to huge deposits that have kept serious candidates away, and now ballot papers which will be shortly heading into landfill.
The UK Government has turned a flagship policy into farce. We have a role charged with serious powers that is now at risk of becoming a joke. The Home Office have obliged with a few videos and a website, but this has all come too late in the day. Few people know this election is happening, and even fewer really understand the nature of the role. There are plenty of big questions that the Government will have to answer post-election.”
The Society has examined turnout in first-time elections for English mayors and it is clear that the relatively low figures achieved in first time elections for English mayors are a million miles away from November’s expected numbers. Here is some useful data on ‘first-time elections’ – the turnout for mayoral elections in England:
- Watford 2002 – 37%
- Doncaster 2002 – 27%
- Hartlepool 2002 – 29%
- Lewisham 2002 – 25%
- Middlesbrough 2002 – 42%
- North Tyneside 2002 – 42%
- Newham 2002 – 26%
- Bedford 2002 – 25%
- Hackney 2002 – 26%
- Mansfield 2002 – 19%
- Stoke on Trent 2002 – 27%
- Torbay 2005 – 24%
- Tower Hamlets 2010 – 26%
- Salford 2012 – 26%
- Liverpool 2012 – 31%
The projected 18.5% for the PCCs is a failing of the election rather than individual candidates who are working hard and face a real challenge. Each candidate has to pay a £5,000 deposit, which they only receive back if they gain a set % of the vote – this has not encouraged many candidates to step up to the mark, and has meant many have far less budget available for publicity and leaflets which are the main way many make an informed decision when voting in an election. In addition the timing is poor – being on a dark winter’s night will not encourage as many voters as the traditional May election time.
But beyond that, I also fear that for some the incoming PCC’s, they will find themselves ending up the sacrificial lamb for matters not of their doing – I find it hard to comprehend how one person can be held responsible for strategic planning errors made without the advice of senior police officers who cannot divulge the pertinent information because PCC’s will not be subject to the high levels of Security vetting required for this sensitive information to be shared – but blamed they will be, by an awfully large number of people and press, who themselves will not be in possession of all the facts, or rather the facts that the PCC’s were not in possession of all the facts …. if you get my meaning.
I personally don’t get the idea of PCC’s and would still question whether now, will all the other problems we all face, is the right time to be making such a major systematic change, or maybe it’s being carried out now so that if it does all go wrong, it can quickly be brushed off as the ‘right idea at the wrong time’ to save face.
But that’s by the by. We are where we are and maybe, just maybe, the PCC’s when in post will see that it’s in their interests to engage, listen and take on board the thoughts and concerns of Ye Olde frontline officer – the guys and girls actually doing the job every day, rather than their political spin-masters sat in a comfy chair in a nice warm office somewhere far, far away.
No one doubts that change is needed in the way the British police works. Every single police officer will be more than happy to tell anyone how the job can be done better, more efficiently, and to the benefit of all our communities. It’s not rocket science, but some people with a vested interest in self-preservation have made a whole industry (or at least a limited company or two) out of making things so difficult that only they have the answers to the problems they themselves have created.
Obviously I cannot show favour for any individual candidate (because hellfire and damnation will befall me) so I will simply wish each and every candidate an equal amount of luck in the forthcoming election. I just wish each of you had an equal opportunity to lay out your case in front of the electorate so that a proper informed choice could be made – for without that, how can the whole system claim any credibility ??
And if you do win, please remember us on the frontline will always be happy to share our wisdom with you
N.B. The section of this article regarding the Electoral Reform Society and election percentages is based on information from chriskidd.co.uk – reproduced with thanks.