Unique experiment in democracy overshadowed by a poor turnout

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The counting of votes starts in Birmingham's International Convention Centre for the Police and Crime Commissioner election
The counting of votes starts in Birmingham's International Convention Centre for the Police and Crime Commissioner election Photo: Matthew Cooper/PA Wire

So few were the votes in some ballot boxes when they were emptied this morning, the counting officers actually laughed.

This unique experiment in democracy will not be remembered for those who became the first ever police commissioners in England and Wales - but for how little it caught the attention of voters.

On average the turnout was in the mid-teens.

In the West Midlands, only 12 per cent of those eligible went to the polls and in part of the West Midlands area, Coventry, the turnout was just 10 per cent.

It raises a question over the mandate the powerful new police chiefs have. They can hire or fire the chief constable. They set budgets. And decide on the priorities for the force.

It's puzzling too, when in survey after survey people list crime as one of their top priorities.

And voters say too that they want greater control over the decision which affect them.

Here was a chance to chose an elected representative to oversee the local police - and voters, in the main, stayed at home.

John Prescott lost to his Conservative counterpart in the battle to become Humberside's first Police and Crime Commissioner
John Prescott lost to his Conservative counterpart in the battle to become Humberside's first Police and Crime Commissioner. Credit: PA

Even when a politician as high profile as John Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister (now Lord Prescott), sparked interested in the Humberside Police area, turnout in his home city of Hull was 15.7%.

(In interviews afterwards John Prescott seemed to be having a tough time digesting the result in which he lost out to his Conservative opponent.)

So questions will be asked of ministers, for whom this was a flagship policy, but particularly of the Home Office.

Voters complained the publicity was non-existent and referred to the lack of information through the letterbox.

But other voters knew about the poll and chose to stay at home - or chose to spoil their balllot paper. Many had concerns that these elections were politicising the police.

Spoilt ballot paper in West Yorkshire
Spoilt ballot paper in West Yorkshire Credit: pccspoil.tumblr.com

The other interesting development has been the success of independent candidates over their Conservative and Labour rivals.

The commissioners will be in post for four years. When these positions are up for re-election in 2016, we may have a better idea what they are for.

And then we may experience a higher turnout - rather than lowest in any peacetime election.