PCC elections - a landslide for voter apathy
His Grace did not wait up all night eagerly awaiting the results of the PCC elections (or the Corby by-election), which is just as well since counting doesn't commence until this morning. There is a reported turnout of 15.8 per cent in Wiltshire - just 81,477 people out of a total electorate of 520,000 bothered to vote. Impressive mandate, don't you think?
Conservative Angus Macpherson was duly elected Wiltshire's PCC, and he explained: "There are several reasons why people didn't come out to vote: they didn't understand what the job is; they didn't know who the candidates were and couldn't make a judgment. And then, depressingly, there were a lot of people while we were out on the street saying, 'I don't (vote) for anything."
The Returning Officer in Wilstshire, Stephen Taylor, said some people had complained about a lack of information: "People have emailed and contacted us saying that they didn't know enough about the candidates in order to be able to make a choice and obviously that's something I have no control over," he told BBC News. He added: "It would be good to have some analysis afterwards and see whether there's any lessons to be learned."
Well, His Grace can give a few, but they need absolutely no analysis:
1) Give people all the information they need to permit them to make an informed decision - the job, the candidates, their manifestos, etc., etc.The third point refers to the fact that in some areas PCCs were elected under First-Past-The-Post; in others it was by the Supplementary Vote system, where voters express a first and second preference, and second preferences are re-distributed as those candidates with the least votes are eliminated (ie some people's votes count twice). Sound familiar? Well, it's closely related to the Alternative Vote system which the electorate comprehensively rejected in a referendum last year. So whose hair-brained idea was it to adopt this system for PCC elections? And whose utterly mind-boggling idea was it to elect PCCs in some areas by FPTP but in others by SV?
2) Don't hold the election in the middle of November, when it tends to be cold, wet and foggy.
3) Stick to a single, clear method of voting.
In the Manchester Central by-election (caused by the resignation of Tony Lloyd so he could stand in the PCC elections), Labour held the seat on a turnout of a depressingly low 18.16 per cent, which is believed to be the lowest in a UK parliamentary by-election since World War II.
The Tory line today, coming from Damian Green, is: "The measure of this policy is not the turnout; it's what the Police and Crime Commissioners achieve over the next few years." Labour's Chuka Umunna said: "It has been a total shambles." And the Electoral Reform Society has branded the Government's handling of the elections a 'comedy of errors'. It is, in short, a dog's breakfast, and the blame for this fiasco lies squarely with the Government. No wonder Nick Herbert resigned.
And yet this turnout is part of a wider declining trend, the blame for which must rest with all our elected politicians. The parties seem to win elections by promising heaven on earth, and when, a decade later, the electorate realises that they are still in purgatory, another swathe of disaffected voters views the democratic process with cynicism and disdain, declaring a plague on all their houses. This leads to a voter apathy and alienation, a deterioration in democratic participation and a declining turnout in elections, especially among the young.
If this decline is not addressed soon - with coherent strategies for increasing participation and inspiring programmes for engagement - we might as well be governed from Brussels.