Gloucestershire PCC election sketch: Politics and policing don't mix
Gloucestershire voted independent candidate Martin Surl as the new county Police and Crime Commissioner.
Here, journalist Rupert Janisch examines the process and what it revealed about the public attitude to the politicisation of policing:
Anyone who thought this week’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) election was not a political fight should have heard some of the chatter going on at the Stratford Leisure Centre in Stroud yesterday.
The three main parties – Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats – were all trumped by the independent candidate Martin Surl, who cleaned up on the second vote system and left the pre-count Tory favourite stranded in his wake.
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Despite coming a distant third Labour, represented by Rupi Dhanda, claimed a moral victory over the Tories, with one spokesman saying their party rivals had been left with a “bloody nose”.
And at the end of the first count, the Labour and Lib Dem candidates, along with their agents, left the area set aside for those in the running.
No doubt the request to leave was within the rules but it was hardly in the spirit of friendly competition and was a sign that tensions were running high, particularly between the Tories and Labour.
And the poor old Lib Dems, who were confident of doing well at this election, were left rubbing their heads and wondering what they, or perhaps their party on a national scale, had done so wrong that fewer than 9,000 people in the entire county voted for them.
To be fair, none of the parties or the independent candidate will have been overwhelmed by the response of the people of Gloucestershire to the call to the ballot box.
A county-wide average turnout of 17.1 per cent demonstrates how poorly these elections grabbed our attention – whether by insufficient publicity, November elections, a lack of clarity of what the PCC role entails, or a belief that the whole project is an expensive and pointless policy.
Much was made of the high number of spoiled ballot papers – 2,115 out of a total of 80,000 votes cast. Many said these papers showed how disenfranchised the public is with the concept of PCCs, a rebellion against the scheme as a whole.
But in truth, not all of these spoiled papers were deliberately sabotaged by those who chose to use their democratic right to object. Some were mistakes, others were unclear and discounted as a result.
And with more than 470,000 people in Gloucestershire eligible to vote, a few hundred naysayers hardly constituted mass protest.
You suspect that the whole project suffered from the politicisation of it – intentional or otherwise. Party politics are hardly a turn-on for voters, especially when they see a list of candidates from the usual sources in a supposedly apolitical voting process.
Yesterday’s atmosphere at Stratford Park – with an overriding sense of relief among the losing parties that “at least the other lot didn’t win” – would have justified the suspicions of any who held similar fears. Mr Surl’s election may act as a shock to them all.