East meets Westminster: Why didn’t we vote?
09:05 22 November 2012
FARCE - there can be no other reasonable analysis of last week’s police and crime commissioner elections, writes Richard Porritt.
Up and down the country – London aside – people shrugged their shoulders and rushed home from work not to place their vote and play their part in our great democracy but to watch the latest instalment of I’m A Celebrity.
There is an easy opinion to form from this mass cry of “we could not care less” – the general public are idiots who care more about watching people of questionable intelligence munching on bugs and kangaroo’s testicles on television than politics. But that is complete and utter rubbish.
Prime Minister David Cameron – who entered Number 10 promising the election of PCCs would be just one of a number of ways in which power would be pushed down to the people – blamed the media. That really is idiotic but then kicking the media is most politicians’ default setting when things go wrong.
The real reason people did not turn out to vote – 16% in Suffolk and just 13% in Essex – was that they were not sure why they were being asked to make a choice. There was confusion over why the police needed to politicised, what exactly the new role would entail and who these people standing for election even were.
Now, there is a tried and tested method of introducing those standing to the electorate – leafleting. Problem was Mr Cameron refused to cough up any cash. Seems he wanted the media to do the job for him – begs the question why should they promote his pet policies?
But to be fair the majority of regional papers have given extensive coverage. The East Anglian Daily Times gave over full pages to each of the candidates in the days leading up to polling and this column was dedicated to the election weeks ago.
And the nationals gave plenty of room to the election as well.
So Mr Cameron can go on pointing fingers all he wants but the real reason this election was a shambles was that people did not care. They do not see a need for a change in the way police forces are run – in fact many feel it unnecessary to pin rosettes to bobbies at all.
It would not be a shock if this whole sorry affair is abolished as quickly as it was dreamt up if Labour squeeze passed the Tories in 2015.
In Suffolk the debacle was given an extra sprinkling of stupidity - as if it needed any more - when Tory Tim Passmore won even though he did not receive the most votes. Yes that is right the loser, won. Even though the country roundly booted out plans to use the alternative voting system - a similar version was used for PCC - in general elections in a referendum last year the Government decided to use it here. It beggers belief.
Problem is AV – like Communism – looks great on paper but flounders in the real world. The only argument for it is that it irons out anomalies on polls which seek to elect numerous people. But here the public were asked to vote for one person, to fill one role in one specific area.
The majority of people in Suffolk who could be bothered to vote – and credit too them - wanted Labour candidate Jane Basham to be the first PCC. Some might say “hail to the thief” because there is a whiff of a stolen election.
But these failings should not reflect on Tim Passmore. He ran a good campaign and is passionate about making the role a vital one through hard-work. And although he narrowly lost the first preference votes he won a clear majority in the second count. East meets Westminster wishes him the best of luck.
But does he have any sympathy with Ms Basham’s claim that she scored the “moral victory”?
“Of course - she fought a good campaign and it must have been tough for her after all that hard work. We all knew the system though when we signed up to the process.
Mr Passmore says it is now up to him to educate and inform people as to why the role is a vital one so that next time turn out is much improved.
“Government made mistakes,” he said. “I was disappointed but that is over now. Government maybe should have been more involved in the promotion but they were not - quite rightly involved heavily in the campaign. I do not see this as an overtly political role.
“I am confident that as people understand more about the thinking behind it they will want to engage more. I am keen to make communication between police and the community - councillors, neighbourhood watch schemes and the general public - a priority.”
The apathy over the PCC vote will worry Mr Cameron. It is another of his reforms which has - in all but its forced implementation - failed. The list is growing for the PM - elected mayors and Lords reform are all but dead and boundary changes and even universal credit look to be on increasingly rocky ground.