Theresa May told to do more to improve turnout in police elections
PUBLISHED September 26, 2012
With just 50 days to go until the polls, the Home Secretary has been told she must include information on those standing in mail-outs to voters, and start broadcasting adverts to increase awareness.
She has also been urged to rule out any future elections in the winter, in an open letter signed by the head of the Electoral Reform Society and 20 Police and Crime Commissioner hopefuls, including independents and Labour party members.
The letter read: "November's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections threaten to result in the lowest turnout in British history. We urge you to rethink the way these elections are being run and to take some common sense steps to improve turnout.
"Police and Crime Commissioners want the chance to speak for local people. This will be impossible with rock bottom turnout and as the Police Federation have warned; low turnouts can also open the door to extreme candidates.
"All we ask is a level playing field for candidates and the chance for voters to make an informed decision. There are a few basic steps that would increase turnout and give these positions the authority they need to be effective."
It is the latest warning that the Conservatives' flagship law and order policy, electing powerful local figures who can hold police forces to account, risks failure because of public apathy.
The initiative has seen a series of setbacks including candidates being disqualified because of childhood convictions, few well-known figures from the military and business joining the race, attempts by a judge to bar magistrates from standing, and opposition from the police themselves.
The Home Office has refused to fund letters to all voters stating who is running in their area, despite lobbying by the Electoral Commission, and so only general information about the ballots will be sent out.
Ministers are also late with publishing essential details about the operation of the polls, which will take place in 41 police force areas across England and Wales on November 15th, while the main cheerleader for the innovation, Nick Herbert, stood down as Policing Minister at the reshuffle.
At the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton on Tuesday, a new Home Office minister admitted he would not be happy with the predicted low turnout.
Asked if 20 per cent would be acceptable, Jeremy Browne replied: "I think that is a question to which the answer is no. I want the turnout to be as high as possible."
He said police commissioners - who will set force budgets and have the power to fire chief constables - would be like George Washington, the first American president, in that they will have no predecessors.
"The strange thing is the dynamic of a lot of elections is if you don't like the person who's doing the job you can go for someone who might do better than him.
"And of course no-one's doing the job now and it's quite hard to define the role."
A Home Office spokesman said: "We have been publicising PCCs and their benefits to local communities for more than two years. A national advertising campaign including television and radio adverts will launch in October and every registered voter will receive details of a dedicated website with information on each candidate. Those details can also be requested in written form through a free phone line which will be included on all election literature.
"We hope the Electoral Reform Society join us in raising awareness of these important elections that will let the public have a direct say on policing in their area for the first time."