This time tomorrow, the country will be flocking to the polls to select their first ever police commissioners. Or at least some of them will. Turnout has long predicted to be low, but the latest analysis by Sky’s psephologist Michael Trasher suggests it will come in between 15 and 20 per cent. Such a figure would be the lowest of any election in modern times (outside of London). As the Electoral Reform society notes, the current record stands from 1998 at 25 per cent.
Much of the apathy towards these elections can be blamed on poor public understanding of PCCs. Although a marketing push has been underway in the last few weeks, it appears to have made little impact. Last weekend, I took a straw poll of people in Newcastle to find out their views. Those I asked were either unaware of the elections or planned to spoil their ballot/not vote over the lack of campaigning effort from the candidates.
On a more scientific basis, the latest Sunday Times polling demonstrates what little impact the promotion of the elections has made. Excluding London and Scotland, 28 per cent stated they are certain to vote in the elections and 23 per cent said they are certain not to vote. On the question of whether they support the concept of police commissioners, only 20 per cent said they do while 46 per cent state they don’t know. On policing standards, over half believe that the PCCs will make no difference to either standards of policing or crime fighting:
However, there is one glimmer of hope for the government. The Conservatives are, as I wrote recently, still the party of choice for law and order, which presents the Tories with an electoral opportunity particularly in urban centres. This polling confirms that they remain far ahead of the other parties:
The apathy does not hide a demand for change in policing. Only 7 per cent believe policing has improved over the last two years. Elected commissioners is the ideal vehicle for the public to instigate a change in policing; but the message has failed to get through as yet.
As Paul Goodman has said eloquently this morning, the concept should still be given the benefit of the doubt at this stage. The uphill battle to convince the public that elected commissioners are not a waste of their time and money will really begin tomorrow and in the following days.