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.

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