By Elliot Furniss
Saturday, November 17, 2012
SUFFOLK’S new Police and Crime Commissioner has criticised the Government for its “ridiculous” handling of the elections which resulted in an embarrassing 16 per cent turnout in the county.
Tim Passmore, a Conservative candidate, beat Labour’s Jane Basham in an extremely close contest yesterday.
After second preference votes were counted, Mr Passmore polled 36,946 while Ms Basham had 35,005.
Independent candidate David Cocks received 14,217 first choice votes and UKIP’s Bill Mountford 11,179 but neither went through to the second round of vote counting.
Mr Passmore said he was “pleased and honoured” to be elected as PCC on what was a “historic day” for Suffolk.
He said: “It was close. I know the turnout wasn’t particularly good - it was better here in Suffolk than in some areas but I have been critical of the Government all along in the way that the publicity was put out for raising the profile but the local media has done a fantastic job.
“Holding major elections in November is a ridiculous time to do it and I think the Government needs to answer questions about why they changed it from the date last May. I have no idea why they changed it to this.
“The Government should jolly well have financed an election address to everybody, particularly when you have got a new election like this, a new concept - I don’t know what they think they were up to.”
He said it had not been possible to go out and speak to all voters individually but he and his team had “done their best”.
About the low turnout and questions about his mandate after losing the first choice vote by 162 votes, he said: “Everybody had the opportunity to vote, if they don’t use it then that’s up to them so I don’t really go much for the argument about mandates.”
Acknowledging that under a different system Ms Basham would have won, he said: “It was very close and I think the point about this system is it does give a broader appeal. We did win quite clearly - in each of the seven districts and borough across Suffolk we had a clear majority on the second preference votes, hence we ended up with a majority of just over 1,900 votes overall. Whichever electoral system you pick there are always criticisms of how you run it.”
Mr Passmore has already received his first bit of criticism - from Suffolk Green Party leader Andrew Stringer.
Mr Stringer congratulated his Mid Suffolk District Council colleague on his success but called for him to not only resign as leader - which Mr Passmore had already pledged to do - but also stand down as a councillor altogether.
He said: “There is a clear conflict of interest here and not only that the time needed to work on behalf of not only the tiny minority of citizens that voted for Tim but everyone in Suffolk will mean that the time needed to conduct the role of councillor will be seriously reduced.
“If Tim does not see his way to resigning as a district councillor perhaps he would like to consider his position as Police and Crime Commissioner.”
Speaking about the national picture, Jenny Watson, chair of the Electoral Commission, said the low turnout was “a concern for everyone who cares about democracy”.
“These were new elections taking place at an unfamiliar time of year, which is why we have made clear at every stage that it would be important to engage effectively with voters,” she said.
“The Government took a number of decisions about how to run these elections that we did not agree with. But what is important now is that the right lessons are learnt: we will talk to voters, candidates and Returning Officers to understand what worked and what didn’t. The Commission is going to undertake a thorough review, and we will present our findings to Parliament in early 2013.”