Friday, 16 November 2012

Spoiler alert!

It was 3 weeks ago that I wrote a comment on the Police and Crime Commissioner election that has just taken place, expressing my concern that it would just turn into another political pawn. As it turned out, the whole this was a bit of a farce, with a record low turnout and an amusing episode of an empty ballot box. There are a number of reasons for people not turning up to vote, ranging from lack of information, with many people not even realising that the the election was on, to the time of year, the lamest excuse in my opinion.

Apparently, all the information we needed was on the Internet with a free website available and these days campaigning is done more and more online. However, anyone looking online, in particular following the #PCC hashtag on Twitter, would have seen lots of comments along the lines of "I'm not going to vote", "vote for anyone, but please just vote" and "spoil your ballot paper!" This last one appears to have had some effect as there was an unusually high proportion of spoilt papers. I wanted to find the percentage of ballot papers spoilt in each vote but curiously, the figure for 'turnout' in the results "does not include spoilt ballot papers". This adjustment of the figures only happened some time after the first results went up, so I was able to find that out of 81447 votes cast in the Wiltshire election, 2683 or 3.3% were spoilt. I understand that this figure was similar around the country but it is now very hard to get hold of the numbers.

The spoilt ballot papers are not a minor issue. In any election there are a certain number of invalid voting papers because someone doesn't understand the instruction or has not marked it clearly, but this was clearly not the case here. Of the few people who turned up to vote, around 3.5% of them went to the trouble of visiting their polling station to deliberately deface the ballot paper. When it is so hard to get people into the voting booth surely it means something if so many people will willingly go specifically to not vote. David Cameron says that they are listening so it will be interesting to see what he makes of this.

On a more positive point, I am pleasantly surprised that my initial fear was not entirely realised. Eleven of the forty one commissioners are independent, which is eleven more than I expected. It is true that many of these do have political allegiances and some even tried and failed to be the official party candidate but, not having taken any party funding, they are now under no obligation to toe a party line. However sincerely each new PCC swears the oath of impartiality in the eyes of public they will still be seen as representing their parties and I am certain that, with very little other information for the electorate to go on, most of those eleven owe their election to the word 'Independent' under their names.

Living in Manchester my new police commissioner is, predictably, Labour but he has expressed his opinion that the independence of the Police in terms of operational independence is needed and he has no intention of bringing political values into force. I have no reason to doubt this but time will tell.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

I've got a little list.

Last night I send an email to each of the candidates for the Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner election next Thursday, not really expecting much of a reply. The email to four of the five candidates ran thus:

Dear $NAME
According to the Home Office web page, the Police and Crime Commissioner is required to "serve the people, not a political party or any one section of their electorate" ( You, in common with all but one of your opponents, are representing a political party and this pattern is true for the entire country with only 30% of candidates being independent.
I am very concerned that this new post will be just another political tool so could you please explain to me how you, as the $PARTY candidate, intend to fulfil your responsibilities while maintaining independence from your party.

The fifth candidate is independent so the email I sent him was more along the lines of what his policies would be. However, to date I have not had a reply to this.

As it happened, I got replies from the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates in that order and so have decided to reproduce them here, verbatim and without comment. I have replied to the final email from each but, to stick to my decision not to add comment, I will not publish anything that has not been responded to.

Firstly, I received the following within an hour from Michael Winstanley, the Conservative candidate:

Thanks for your email. If elected I will swear on oath of impartiality to do my job without fear or favour. Once in office I will not taken any instructions from the party machine in the execution of my duties. The only people I will answer to is the people of Greater Manchester. I will also stand up against any Government if I think that they are wrong or in order to get a better deal for Greater Manchester.

I replied thus, waiting until the following morning to give the last sentence some justification:

Thank you for your quick response to my question. I am aware of the oath that all new Police and Crime Commissioners will be required to swear on taking office and I have no reason to doubt your integrity. However, considering that most candidates are backed by political parties and the very existence of this election has come as a surprise to many people, it is understandable that people are cynical. Most people I have spoken to are distrustful of anyone who is not standing as an independent, and independents are few and far between. Unfortunately, I believe that the turnout on Thursday will be low and the new PCCs will be elected based on the political motivations of the minority of the electorate.
I am sorry to be so negative about this but I am quite disappointed about the way this is going. I still do not know what I will do on Thursday but you might be interested to know that, so far, you are the only candidate who has replied to my email.

to which he replied

I totally appreciate the situation that you are in. I also understand that people are cynical about the process. But if you can give me your support on Thursday I would appreciate it. It will also be an opportunity for me to prove that I will do what I have pledged to do. If at the end of the 3.5 years then you can get rid of me.
The only thing that I would say on the Independent issue and I am not inferring anything about the candidate who is standing. But how independent is anyone? What are their political views? Because I could stand as an Independent but have an extreme view either left or right. At least with someone standing under a Party Banner you have a fair idea where they are coming from.

Mid afternoon I received a reply from Tony Lloyd

The independence of the Police in terms of operational independence is needed and I have no intention of bringing either political values or control in to the force. In terms of politics more generally it is absolutely legitimate that the Commissioner operates independent for example of the national Government so that without fear or favour they are prepared to raise privately and publicly issues affecting the security of the people of Greater Manchester. My record in Parliament shows that I did vote against and speak out against the intentions of the Labour Government as a Labour MP. It would though be unreal for me to claim not to be a Labour politician as I have been one for over 30 years. The values of the Labour Party inform me about what I believe to be right for our society.

Finally, late in the evening I received my longest reply from Matt Gallagher.

Thanks for getting in touch with me. I recently posted the following item on my website ( to explain how I ended up as a Lib Dem sponsored candidate. To be frank, the ludicrous rule about putting up a £5k deposit would see off all but the wealthiest independents, and without the Lib Dems agreeing to put up the deposit (in the ardent hope that they will get it back), I couldn't have run.
As the article says, I wrote my own manifesto. I have received no money from anyone, not even the Lib Dems. I have paid £700 from my own savings (and got a receipt) to pay for some leaflets to insert in the Lib Dem ones being put out for the Manchester Central by-election, but the party won't help PCC candidates because they oppose political involvement in the police. Their manifesto calls for an elected Police Authority, but they didn't get support for that from Labour or the Tories, so we are stuck with elected PCC's.
I'm the protest vote, giving the electorate an alternative to politicians (the independent didn't declare until 15 minutes before the close of nominations, by which time I was committed). If elected, and its a big if as I am faced with a ruthless, well-organised Labour machine that has the local press in its pocket and controls 8 of the 10 boroughs, I will be taking an oath of impartiality. I have also told the Lib Dems that there can be no political interference in the running of the police, indeed they are happy with that. My Consultative Committee will contain 7 Assistant Commissioners, appointed by the groups they represent, not me (see my manifesto). I have no idea who they will be, or their political persuasion, because it is important that they represent their constituency, not my views and opinions.
I suspect that the other candidates, if elected, will not be falling over themselves to appoint staff from beyond their own political parties. We shall see;
People have been asking me ... (linked article reproduced in email)

I await replies from Stephen Woolfe and Roy Warren but I will put them up if and when I get them.