Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

PCCs have mandate, insists Cameron

Just under 16 per cent of the electorate in Wiltshire came out to vote in the police and crime commissioner elections
Counting agents sort through ballot papers for Avon and Somerset, at the University of the West of England in Bristol

Prime Minister David Cameron has insisted that the first police and crime commissioners will have a mandate to oversee the delivery of law and order, despite a turnout at the elections which is expected to be a record low.

In the most high-profile result, Labour's Lord Prescott failed in his bid to become police commissioner for Humberside, losing out to Tory Matthew Grove.

But the historic vote for the newly-created £100,000-a-year jobs was overshadowed by poor turnout, with fewer than 20% of voters going to the polls, and some cities - such as Coventry - barely scraping above 10%. In one polling station in Gwent, not a single voter cast their ballot. The Electoral Commission watchdog announced a review of the operation of the polls, warning the low participation level was "a concern for everyone who cares about democracy".

Labour said it was "shocking" that the Government had spent up to £100 million on elections which had failed to engage the public, while Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron warned it would be "extremely difficult" for PCCs to claim a mandate when they were elected by just 7-8% of registered voters in their area.

But Mr Cameron insisted: "Yes, they have a mandate. The turnout was always going to be low, when you're electing a new post for the first time, but remember these police and crime commissioners are replacing organisations that weren't directly elected at all."

Speaking during a visit to Wiltshire to congratulate successful candidate Angus Macpherson, the Prime Minister said: "For the first time people are going to have a local law and order champion... Now they have got them and those people in post will be able to prove their worth - that they are holding the police to account, they are getting things done for local people, they are prioritising the law and order crackdown that the people want to see - my prediction is that the turnout will be much higher next time around."

With turnout at the PCC elections - held in every part of England and Wales except London - set to be even lower than the 23% peacetime record set at the 1999 European Parliament polls, Electoral Commission chair Jenny Watson promised a "thorough review".

"The Government took a number of decisions about how to run these elections that we did not agree with," said Ms Watson. "But what is important now is that the right lessons are learnt: we will talk to voters, candidates and returning officers to understand what worked and what didn't. The Commission is going to undertake a thorough review, and we will present our findings to Parliament in early 2013."

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "We warned the Government repeatedly that they had the wrong approach and that turnout would be low. Theresa May and David Cameron didn't listen and it is shocking that they have spent £100 million on these elections rather than on 3,000 police constables instead. Time and again on the doorstep people told us either they didn't have enough information, didn't know the elections were happening, didn't support them or didn't want to go out in the dark to vote."

The final result was declared just after midnight, with Conservative candidate Tony Hogg winning the election in Devon and Cornwall. In total, the Conservatives won 16 commissioner posts, Labour 13 and independents 12.

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