I have been looking with great interest at how the PCC contests came out around the country, and although the turnouts were low there were good things about how the results went, particularly that those who did vote appeared to be paying attention to the merits and relevant experience of individual candidates.
It wasn't a particularly brilliant night for any of the political parties, and it was evident that many voters voted against candidates who they saw as too political. Twelve independents were elected. Candidates with a strong background in the justice system, such as the successful candidate in Cumbria, Richard Rhodes, who had been a magistrate for 33 years, and a significant number of former police officers, tended to do well in the election. Former ministers of both parties, such as Labour's John Prescott, tended to lose.
I actually think that one of the reasons to support the new system is that it gives the voters the option to choose a non-political representative on local policing issues, and they did NOT have that choice under the old system.
Anyone who imagines that the previous Police Authority system was completely non-political is living in cloud cuckoo land. Not all members of the previous Police Authorities were members of a political party, a significant minority were volunteers with no political allegiance. The vast majority of those police authority members who were party politicians did not attempt to use their positions in a party political way. For what it's worth, I think the Police Authority in Cumbria did a good job and nothing in this post is intended to be in any way a criticism of its' members.
But the fact remains that the vast majority of Police Authority members were appointed through processes which were at least potentially under political control, and the majority of them - nine out of seventeen in Cumbria's case - were local politicians. To those who want to keep party politics out of policing I would argue that the old system did not allow this.
Under the new system a voter who says "I want someone who is not a party politician to be in charge of my local police force." has more choices: he or she can pick a candidate who is not a wannabee or former MP or councillor, as the voters in Cumbria did, or pick a candidate who is not a member of a political party as the voters in twelve other force areas did.
It's interesting to look at the outcome of the PCC races by comparison to a list of force areas by aggregate 2010 voting, which was produced on one of the Police Elections sites and republished a couple of days ago by the "Political Betting" website. Mike Smithson of Political betting, also made the prediction, which seemed reasonable a few days ago, that The party machines will prevail/
" e.g. that political party candidates would win most of the PCC positions and that the chances of Independents did not look very high.
This is the table, with the numbers after the name of each force area being the average aggregate % share of each of the three main parties over the constituencies in the force area, followed by the actual result. (Avon and Somerset should really have been sui generis
as the one force area where the Lib/Dems were ahead on aggregate vote in 2010. I have left it in the fourth category, where the Conservatives were fifteen percentage points ahead of Labour.)
on 2010 votes
Cleveland: LAB 40.1 CON 27.81 LD 21.5 -
45 LD 24 CON 21 - Labour
Greater Manchester: LAB 41 CON 27 LD 23 - Labour
Gwent: LAB 41 CON
24 LD 17 - Independent
Merseyside: LAB 52 CON 21 LD 20 - Labour
Northumbria: LAB 45 LD 24 CON
22 - Labour
South Wales: LAB 41 CON 22 LD 21 - Labour
South Yorkshire: LAB 43 LD 23 CON
20 - Labour
Nottinghamshire: LAB 37 CON 36 LD 19 - Labour
West Midlands: LAB 37 CON 32 LD
19 - Labour
North Wales: LAB 33 CON 30 LD 15 Plaid 15 - Independent
Yorkshire: LAB 37 CON 32 LD 20 - Labour
LAB on Con to Lab swing up to
Derbyshire: CON 36 LAB 34 LD 22 - Labour
40.84 LAB32.53 LD 21.21 - Conservative
Cumbria: CON 39.5 LAB 30.82 LD 24.35 - Conservative
CON 30 LD 26 LAB 22 - Conservative
Humberside: CON 37 LAB 31 LD 22 - Conservative
38 LAB 35 LD 18 - Labour
LAB on Con to Lab swing 5%-7.5%
Staffordshire: CON 41 LAB 31 LD 18 - Conservative
CON 44.91 LAB 27.28 LD 20.4 - Labour
Leicestershire: CON 41 LAB 28 LD
22 - Conservative
Warwickshire: CON 45 LAB 27 LD 20 - Independent
Conservatives 15%+ ahead in 2010
45.3 LD 29.19 LAB 16.31 - Conservative
Dorset: CON 48 LD 32 LAB 12 - Independent
Essex: CON 49 LD 21
LAB 19 - Conservative
Gloucestershire: CON 45 LD 27 LAB 21 - Independent
Hampshire: CON 49 LD 30 LAB
14 - Independent
Herefordshire: CON 50 LD 24 LAB 19 - Conservative
Kent: CON 50, LAB 21, LD
21 - Independent
Lincolnshire: CON 46 LD 21 LAB 20 - Independent
Norfolk: CON 43 LD 27 LAB 18 - Independent
Yorkshire: CON 46 LD 27 LAB 19 - Conservative
Northamptonshire: CON 48 LAB 26 LD
19 - Conservative
Suffolk: CON 46 LD 24 LAB 21 - Conservative
Surrey: CON 55 LD 28 LAB 9 - Independent
46 LD 27 LAB 16 - Conservative
Thames Valley: CON 48 LD 25 LAB 17 - Conservative
West Mercia: CON 46 LD
24 LAB 18 - Independent
Wiltshire: CON 47 LD 30 LAB 18 - Conservative
Avon and Somerset: LD 38 CON
38 LAB 18 - Independent
Devon and Cornwall: CON 42 LD 36 LAB 12 - Conservative
Overall there were sixteen Conservative, thirteen Labour, and twelve Independents (including candates using labels like "Zero Tolerance Policing") elected as commissioners.
Those force areas which would have been Labour if everyone in them had voted as they did in the 2010 election elected a mix of Labour and Independent PCCs, mostly Labour.
Those which would have been Conservative on the 2010 vote but gone Labour on a uniform 15% swing, slightly less than implied by the lead Labour had in a recent opinion poll, elected six Conservative Police and Crime Commissioners, three Labour PCCs, and one Independent.
The force areas where the Conservatives were more than 15% ahead of Labour in 2015 elected an even split of Conservative and Independent PCCs.
I draw two important lessons from these results
* No party could take even their strongest areas for granted: voters could and did elect Independent PCCs in areas which are normally strongly Conservative or Labour
* Although some candidates who I think would have made superb PCCs were not elected, in general candidates with a strong track record in the police, on police authorities, or in other roles relevant to the justice system mostly outperformed expectations, while candidates who were seen mainly as politicians often underperformed.
This suggests in turn that, however disappointing the turnout, those people who did cast a vote were applying a degree of genuine scrutiny to the candidates. And that democracy, however imperfectly, did work.