Coffee House

Too many elections and not enough votes?

16 November 2012

12:41 PM

16 November 2012

12:41 PM

More people are interested in low turnout than turned out to vote at yesterday’s PCC elections; that is the story of the day so far. The figures quoted are baleful, ranging between 12 and 24 per cent (Harry Phibbs has a good guide). This makes elections to the European Parliament look popular. Indeed, one polling station in Newport took no votes whatsoever, which tells its own story.

In terms of the politics of this, low turnout is thought to suit the Tories rather than Labour because more of their voters make it to the stations in elections like these. Indeed, there are fears for Big Bad John’s effort in Humberside because Tory areas might have been more motivated than Labour ones. (UKIP and the independent candidate are also fancied.)


If Prescott’s loud campaign has failed to cut through (a claim of which I’m sceptical, because, as John Curtice points out, Humberside is a very decent prospect for Labour mathematically), what hope have PCC elections in the future? It’s a valid question, and one that the government and its acolytes have answered by saying that there will be more interest next time because candidates will have a record in office to debate, Rome wasn’t built in a day etc. It has also slammed the London-centric media for not giving the elections sufficient coverage. That may well be; but, looking at today’s figures, it’s hard to accept that the answer to voter apathy is more elections. At the end of the party conference season, I argued that Britain is beginning to suffer a crisis of democracy. Yesterday’s vote superficially reinforces that claim, although it must be said that the parties and the media did not put their full weight behind these elections – the results, therefore, make the case for greater with engagement voters.

Indeed, an anti-dote to my pessimism is the likely success of George Ferguson, the independent candidate in the Bristol mayoral vote, who is leading the election on first preferences by 33,321 to (Lab) Marvin Rees’ 25,896 votes. There are rumours that Labour is about to concede defeat. Ferguson’s likely victory marks a rare success for independent politics against the party machines – and Labour paid considerable attention to the Bristol election. Who knows, perhaps it’s the start of something: Andrew Sparrow reports that independent candidates are very well placed to win the Dorset, North Wales and Essex PCC elections. It’s a reminder that local democracy can work.

As for the Corby by-election, Labour is briefing that it expects to win by 4,000 votes on a swing of about 7.5 per cent, which is slightly below the national average according to the invaluable Anthony Wells. It remains to be seen if Labour is lowering expectations; but such a result would not be catastrophic from the Tories’ perspective. That is, of course, unless they finish behind UKIP, which is a distinct possibility according to the Westminster rumour mill: UKIP has done surprisingly well in the votes called thus far, as a glance @Nigel_Farage will prove. This might concern Tory strategists who fear that the party is insufficiently Eurosceptic.

Worse still, though, the Tories have been wiped out in Manchester, losing their deposit in the by-election, which suggests that 2015 is going to be an uphill struggle for the party in cities north of the Watford Gap, a point reinforced by its likely performance in PCC elections for the urban areas of that part of the world. From the long-term strategic perspective, this is an important upshot of yesterday’s votes.

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Show comments
  • Pramston

    Tories are toast. Deal with it. As a lifelong conservative even I realise they deserve to be. Dead party walking.

  • Charlie the Chump

    If the question had been asked in May with other elections and not postponed by devious LIbdems to cold wet November the response would have been much better, but the Tories let this one slip. We’ll have wait 4 years and see what the track record in each area is and then the voters response.
    All Parties must however respond to the increasing lack of interest in elections generally instead of simply bemoaning “it’s not like it used to be” . . .

  • Troika21

    The Tories campaigned against AV on the basis that it would cost money – now they’ve spent millions on a duff election.

    Or not. Declining to provide Independents with free mail shots was a disgraceful act, and undermined the whole concept that these would be ‘laboratories of democracy’ – a noble idea, but would require the PCCs to have real power. As we’re asked to vote for a chairman rather than a CEO they have little in the way of actual authority.

  • MikeBrighton

    “More people are interested in low turnout than turned out to vote at
    yesterday’s PCC elections; that is the story of the day so far”. Yes in the left-liberal media pricipally led by the BBC. The BBC hates the idea of allowing democratic accountability for policing, heaven forbid! The public might actually get a police force rather than “service” focused on er combatting crime rather than PC, Westminster-beltway priorities.

    Democracy is a bad clearly a bad thing and clearly invalidated by low turnouts. So let’s just put a dictatorship in charge. That’s irony BTW

    • Rhoda Klapp

      Mike, we already had control of the police. It was already accountable. What did we gain here? The election lacks validity because the debate did not take place. It was a badly-conducted election. It does not fail because it was about the police, although many of us have doubts as to the desirability of letting PARTY politics into this sphere. The reaction of the parties in making this a party issue may have contributed to the failure. And it is a failure. It is not the electorate’s fault for not turning out.

      And if you think ACPO (that loathsome racket) is about to let anybody change anything real about the police, you may be mistaken.

  • Rhoda Klapp

    Mr Blackburn, you are right to bemoan the state of democracy but wrong to think the number of elections has anything to do with it. What is wrong is the absence of a belief that voting will change anything. This is a result of the inversion of status of the political class. They don’t think they work for us any more.

    This PCC election. As I’ve pointed out in other posts, there is more to an election than sending out polling cards and opening a polling station. If there is no debate and no discussion, there is no election. If there is no local identity, there is no localism. This was wrong from the beginning, but it is the complete failure to have the debate which nullifies the idea that it was a proper election. It is useless for straining politicians to claim the result is meaningful but the turnout was disappointing. Bettter to think the turnout was meaningful and the result invalid.

    I hope you will be returning to the democratic deficit and rubbing the political class’s nose in it for as long as it takes. This matters more than westminster gossipt

    • William Haworth

      Absolutely right. This was not apathy; this was a clear statement that people know that the choices presented to them by our leaders won’t change anything, so why bother? Whoever you vote for, the politicians win.

    • 2trueblue

      Your line ‘they don;t think they work for us anymore’ is the most salient point, they don’t, and we know it. Until there is a change people will not reengage with what has now become ‘the political elite’.

      • eeore

        So how do you change it?

        • 2trueblue


          • eeore

            That’s a good start.

    • eeore

      So would you say the recent Presidential race was an election?

      There was debate, there was discusssion, yet curiously people overlook that the result was announced before the votes were counted. Look at Washington state declaring the result of a postal ballot before they could have possibly received the votes, or Tennessee declaring the result 11 minutes after the polls closed. Add to that the way Romney should never have been the candidate because of fraud in Maine and Ohio.

      • Rhoda Klapp

        The general view on US elections is that both sides cheat and it balances out. I know of no neutral source which I would trust to divine the truth. I think there was no lack of debate though. Two endless years of it.

        • eeore


          But the point you appear to be missing is that the country is run by the military industrial complex, the president has the right – in law – to kill who he likes – and has drawn up a kill list, the federal government has recently bought the equivalent of 2 1/2 bullets for every citizen, increasingly journalists are pointing to the way in which the news is controlled by the CIA (among others), and now they are declaring election results before they could have possibly counted the votes (leave aside the issue that more than half the electorate didn’t vote which according to your logic would make the election invalid).

          But yeah! Both sides cheat…. so?…. meh… what’s on TV? It don’t matter.

          Which is the problem with your smug apathy. If you can’t be bothered to be to vote, then you don’t have a right to complain when they just ignore you and follow the US model of rigging the election. Anymore than you can blithely claim that the PPC is illegimate, when you just accepted the police chief they forced on you before whether you liked them or not.

  • eeore

    Think of it as an experiment into the theory that you can effect change by not voting.

  • itdoesntaddup

    Now will the political strategists stop fighting over the 1.5% of the population that is LGBT, and consider the NOTAs?

  • Vulture

    Real elections, as opposed to this Police nonsense, which people have rightly refused to support, are what should worry the Coalition: In Manchester Central the Tories lost their deposit, scoring a miserable 754 votes, just five ahead of UKIP. The Lib Dems appear to have disappeared completely.
    One dreads to think what Corby will bring. Well, I don’t actually: I’m hoping that it will bring complete humiliation for Dave, George Nick and their disastrous policies. And hasten the day when we will see the back of them – even if that means another Labour Government they could hardly be worse.

    • dalai guevara

      Careful what you wish for – taking a Labour win as the lesser of two evils is outright perilous. Observe the interet rates rise even faster then – some posters on here must be gaging for the screening of ‘Auf Wiedersehen Pet’ the sequel.