The Government's 5-point plan to drive voter turnout into the ground
Did you know that on 15th November 2012, there will be elections in 41 police force areas in England and Wales for Police and Crime Commissioners? No? Neither did His Grace. Being an anorak, he knew they were looming, but nothing of the details.
Anyone who can vote in a local election will be able to vote for the PCC of their choice, and almost anyone who can stand in a local election can stand to be a PCC. His Grace says 'almost anyone', because if you threw a brick through your neighbour's window when he caught you scrumping apples at the age of 14, you're excluded.
The PCC’s key roles will be to set the budget and strategic objectives for the Force and hold the Chief Constable to account.The statutory powers and duties of the PCC will include:
- Holding the Chief Constable to account for an effective and efficient police service on behalf of communities.
- Production of a Policing and Crime Plan that sets strategic objectives
- Setting the policing budget and the Council Tax precept
- Producing an annual report detailing how the police and crime objectives have been met through the year and what resources have been required to do so.
- The appointment of the Chief Constable, and dismissal if required.
- The PCC will have a role in wider community safety issues and will have powers to issue crime and disorder reduction grants
- The PCC has a duty to consult the public, and will also consider the views of victims when setting police and crime objectives.
But the Electoral Reform Society has noted that PCC elections threaten to result in the lowest turnout of any nationwide election in British history.They will have cost a whopping £75m, but evidence suggests that we can only hope for a turnout of around 18.5% - the lowest ever.
From the start, the PCC elections have been marred by controversy and now it seems that the Home Office is shirking its responsibility to provide voters with even the most basic information that the elections are even taking place.
The stated purpose of electing Police and Crime Commissioners was to improve accountability and reconnect the public and the police - an aim which is clearly undermined by a painfully low turnout.
The Home Office’s 5-point plan to drive turnout into the ground:
1. Do not conduct a mail out with information about the elections and the candidates;Additionally, despite the fact that independence and diversity were proclaimed as important features of PCC candidates, unrealistic eligibility rules have meant that strong independent candidates with minor misdemeanours in their teenage years could be excluded. This is in addition to the fact that independent candidates were already hampered by the lack of a funded mail-out since, unlike party candidates, they will have no network of campaigners or party resources behind them to help them reach out to large constituencies.
2. Only provide information online so that the 7m people on the electoral roll who don’t regularly access the internet are unlikely to know it's happening;
3. Set up a helpline but don’t activate it until 23 days before the election is due to take place;
4. Hold the election in November when no other elections are taking place (research shows that winter elections have significantly lower turnout than those held in summer months);
5. Include no provisions for information in accessible formats for the blind or partially sighted or information in any other languages.
Conversely, an extremely low turnout could unfairly advantage extremist candidates who would never succeed in winning over a bigger proportion of the electorate.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society says: "This election is beginning to look like a perfect storm, which could result in the lowest turnout for a national election in British history. Those pulling the strings have not done their homework and as a result this election looks primed to degenerate into a complete shambles. Put simply, if the people elected to localise decision-making over how our streets are policed, do not represent local people, what is the point of having them?”
As His Grace says, the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners are due to take place on 15th November 2012. Please put this date in your diary, lest it become a clean sweep for the Lefty liberals.