Over the last few months, before and after the 1st anniversary of the PCC elections, many people have asked me how I think the Police Commissioners have done in practice.
Here are my four quick points, and one additional comment on the election expenditure.
(1) PCCs have not been the disaster that opponents were worried about. They do not appear to have particularly politicised policing policy.
(2) PCCs have not been the success that the Conservative policy the Coalition implemented predicted. They have been an almost total failure in raising awareness of and public involvement in who controls the police. The public do not know who their PCCs are.
(3) The 156,00 protest spoilt votes and the huge majority of non-voters have been basically ignored by the political parties and in official reviews.
(4) My own local PCC has done more than I expected, and not been excessively party political but has a very low profile.
(5) More than half of UKIP candidates claimed to have spent virtually nothing on their campaigns in the election. I don't believe them. I don't believe that the UKIP party candidates spent less than my £300 in several counties. If they really did I wonder what information about the issues at stake their voters used to decide who to vote for.
I explain the points more, below.
(1) PCCs have not been the disaster that opponents were worried about. They do not appear to have particularly politicised policing policy. Several however have made stupid blunders over their personal expenditure and staff appointments that indicates either inexperience, or an arrogant attitude that lets down the public they are supposed to represent. This is unforgiveable given all the examples of what not to do of bad behaviour by some politicians, so such mistakes should easily have been avoided. However media and party complaints of cronyism for appointing political allies as deputies is ridiculous. Many winning candidates were always going to appoint their political colleagues as Deputy PCCs, regardless as to whether that was or looked sensible or not. Likewise the complaints about sacking Chief Constables have been made up by the media. Some Chief Constables were asked to reapply for extensions of their contracts, rather than have them granted automatically. That again may be unwise too early interference but it was perfectly legal.
(2) PCCs have not been the success that the Conservative policy the Coalition implemented predicted. They have been an almost total failure in raising awareness of and public involvement in who controls the police. PCCs are virtually invisible, the public have no idea who they are or what they do. They are only a little better known than the Police Authorities that they took over from, though this may improve over the next few years.
(3) The 156,00 protest spoiled votes and the huge majority of non-voters have been ignored in reviews. A huge number of the 156,000 rejected votes (3,000 on Merseyside) were a deliberate statement against the Government policy and against the lack of information provided about candidates. The government, parties, official bodies like the Electoral Commission, civil servants and PCCs themselves have all let down the public by failing to act on the reasons for this largest ever protest by both non-voting and deliberate spoilt voting in a national election. I argued that reviews of the election needed to consider the protest of the spoilt voters and not only consider the election process. The Electoral Commission is supposed to an independent body dealing with the probity of elections but a technical report on these elections is an entirely inadequate response. They correctly highlighted lack of information for the public as a major reason for not voting, but using a mandate covering 'administration' of elections to ignore the overwhelming political complaints is a dereliction of duty. As I said, given the exclusion of candidates, rigging of process in favour of large parties, and obstacles to independent campaigns this would not have been judged a free and fair election if carried out in another country.
The Electoral Commission report said "LROs and observers suggests that a significant proportion of rejected ballot papers were deliberately spoiled by electors wanting to register their concerns about the elections, although it has not been possible to quantify the extent of this activity through available electoral data." That is pathetic. They should have been at counts examining votes, or got court permission to do so afterwards and they could verify what was obvious to anyone actually looking at votes at a count. Their poll questions (see chart 4) seemingly failed to ask whether people did not vote because they opposed the politicisation of policing which was a reason many people gave at the time.
The Electoral Commission also colludes with Labour and Conservative politicians in preventing rehabilitation of offenders by banning long ex-offenders from standing for this important office. Their recommendation 5 only says "providing more specific advice about the circumstances in which people might be subject to a disqualification on the basis of a previous conviction." It wouldn't be hard to argue that a breach of a potential candidate's Human Rights Act right to political participation would affect the fair 'administration' of an election because the pool of candidates would not be representative. The Electoral Commission stuck to their 'not my job' line instead of finding a way to recommend making the situation better.
(4) My own local PCC came out with a detailed and appropriate looking set of priorities after a consultation that I thought was extremely flimsy. She has had a very low profile, has taken part in some party political photocalls, but has also been out and about at a variety of events across the county. Jane Kennedy appears to have done more locally as PCC than she did in her last dozen years as an MP when she was busy as a Labour Government minister. But like all PCCs the general public do not know who she is or what she is doing.
(5) More than half of UKIP candidates claimed to have spent very little on their campaigns in the election. I don't believe them. I don't believe that eight UKIP party candidates spent less than my £300 in several counties, another only a little more, and another four a maximum of £610. I spent only £300. I can't believe I was 15th lowest & 8 UKIP candidates spent less than me. I only put out the amount of leaflets that would cover the number of houses in one local council ward for an election covering a whole county. Did UKIP really do less than that? If so either their voters were highly motivated to look online and research policies, or they voted without the faintest idea as to what they were voting for.
Incidentally, the spending limit for the Merseyside PCC election was £182,529. My election expenses were £323.78. To put my one leaflet in context, there are 30 wards in Liverpool alone, and the PCC constituency was 5 Council areas.
People who have supported me as an Independent have been justifiably very pleased that they made so much impact without any organisation except themselves. £323 for 14,000 votes is really not bad. In my political write up on the election I missed out one statistic. I sent about 1,000 text messages in 6 weeks (about 4 times more than I usually do).
My support was mainly gathered through social media, Twitter, website, word of mouth and some media publicity. My leaflets and posters were printed in Liverpool. The Labour Party's glossy leaflet was printed in Manchester.
Electoral Commission references to Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England and Wales. Report on the administration of the elections held on 15 November 2012. (March 2013). See para. 1.23; page 35; page 16. The Electoral Commission also published a report and data on candidate spending at the 2012 Police and Crime Commissioner elections. (September 2013). The data is fascinating (I repeat my thanks to the Commission for that). The report makes no substantive recommendations to tackle the ski slope unlevel playing field, but makes the very sensible recommendation that candidate expenditure returns should be published online to allow greater transparency. (Recommendation 2). Then we could all see whether UKIP really did spend as little as they claimed, and what the political parties spent their supporters' money on.