Will voters turn out for the ‘invisible election’?

22 April 2016, Blog

As a Londoner you could be forgiven for thinking that the only votes currently taking place in this country, that are of any consequence, are the London Mayoral election on 5th May and the EU Referendum on 23rd June (in case you’d forgotten).

There are of course actually many votes taking place on 5th May, and perhaps the most overlooked one happening across England and Wales is the vote for the next cohort of Police and Crime Commissioners. The PCC elections have frankly received little attention in the media to date, apart from of course the honourable exception of these hallowed pages.

Last time around, in those dark autumn months of 2012, I was still working for the now former Association of Chief Police Officers, and as such there was only one election on my mind. Indeed, I had just spent the last 18 months helping the police try to lobby against the very creation of PCCs. That said I was quietly expectant that PCCs may actually have a positive role to play in the future of policing.

Now that the role of PCC faces the ballot for a second time do I think the critics need to eat some humble pie? I think they can hold the fork, for now. Some PCCs have had a demonstrably positive impact on their forces, others have not, and indeed some have only managed to achieve notoriety. But to some degree that was rather point wasn’t it? You can see how they’ve done, and if you don’t like it you’re about to get the opportunity to vote them out. Not an option that was available with the former Police Authorities, assuming you were even aware of their existence.

How will the coming election measure that success? Well there are a number of metrics we can use. Turnout is the main one commentators will be looking out for. Given the abysmal turnout on that damp November in 2012 everyone will be looking to see whether the Spring sunshine may have warmed up voters. I personally have little doubt that the turnout for PCC elections will be higher, though admittedly they couldn’t really get much lower. But the interesting statistic to watch won’t be the average across England and Wales, it will be the individual ones for each PCC.

The average figure across England and Wales will give you a false reading, as ever the devil will be in the detail. On 5th May there will be local elections taking place across much of the country (see Bernard Rix’s earlier analysis for Policing Insight of where these are taking place). The average voter turnout for local elections in 2012 was 31.3%. PCC’s can expect similar turnouts from their electorate in areas that also have council elections. The interesting figures to watch will be the turnout PCCs can attract in constituencies that have no other local elections taking place, i.e. have they inspired voters enough/raised enough awareness for them to turn out tosolely vote for their respective PCC.

Cast your eye over a map of where the local elections are taking place this May and you’ll see great swathes of the South West of England and the East of England that barely have any. Therefore, will the acid test of PCCs ‘cut through’ (or lack of) be demonstrated by the likes of Avon & Somerset and Devon & Cornwall or Suffolk and Norfolk? Will the ‘Independent’ candidates survive the people turning out at council elections to vote along party lines?

I’m sure I’m not telling these candidates anything they don’t already know, but being able to demonstrate public by-in for PCCs is vitally important to the future of the role – policing is after all by consent. There’s no-doubt they’ll be getting more powers, such as over fire services, in the near future; and that being the case they need to ensure they carry the public with them. Let’s hope we find out on 6th May that they have.

By James Hargrave, Senior Account Director at JBP

Original source: https://policinginsight.com/opinion/will-voters-turn-out-for-the-invisible-election/

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