Last Friday, we saw the election of the first PCCs (Police and Crime Commissioners). Katy Bourne, the Conservative Party candidate, was elected for all of Sussex. I congratulate Katy and wish her well in her new role. She is very able and I am confident that she will serve our county well.
Across the country, 16 Conservative, 13 Labour and 12 Independent candidates were returned. There were some surprises with former Labour Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, losing out to the Conservative candidate in Humberside. Everywhere the poll was very low, with just 14 per cent of Crawley electors voting, although the proportion amongst postal voters was much higher.
Before the PCC elections, there was much criticism of the concept and fears about the politicisation of the police. We also had a previously untried voting system where two preferences could be expressed on the ballot paper. The calling of a vote in November was never going to assist turnout. I cannot recall an election being this late on the calendar. There were a good number of spoilt votes but not as many as I had feared. The low turnout was perhaps a symptom of the above impacts on political activists, reducing the number of these people ready to go out and campaign. Therefore the message from PCC candidates was less widely heard, making a low turnout even more likely.
There was a strong showing from independent candidates, again reflecting a view that policing should not be politicised. The Independent candidate for Sussex came third, but only just behind the Labour candidate, on first preferences. In Crawley, it was notable that there was a swing of support away from Labour and to the Conservatives as compared to the May 2012 Crawley Borough Council elections. That must be a disappointment for Labour who should expect to be doing so much better at the mid-term point of a Conservative-led government. Aside from all of this, there is a clear political message from electors. Many people were not convinced of the merits of having elected PCCs. A significant proportion of voters did not feel adequately informed about what a PCC was or what the candidates stood for. The very strong showing of independent candidates indicated hostility to party political labels for these policing roles.
Anyone elected to a prominent political position is challenged to justify the confidence that has been placed in them. It is clear, particularly for those PCCs elected on a party political label, that they will have especially high expectations placed on them during their term of office. They have to demonstrate that these new positions really will make a positive difference to policing and its outcomes for their communities.