The staggeringly low turnout that the Electoral Reform Society is predicting for November’s Police and Crime Commissioner elections comes as little surprise to those involved in organising the vote. In fact, I was quite surprised that the ERS expects a turnout as high as 18.5 per cent, and I suspect the Home Office might be, too.
Nick Herbert betrayed his nerves about the turnout earlier this week when he was harangued by Evan Davis on the Today programme. Today the ERS’ chief executive Katie Ghose predicted that this could be a ‘perfect storm, which could result in the lowest turnout for a national election in British history’ and could ‘degenerate into a complete shambles’. That extremist candidates could gain an unfair advantage in some areas is just one problem with this low turnout: the legitimacy of the decisions that the new PCCs will take is another. Ghose has a fair point when she asks ‘if the people elected to localise decision-making over how our streets are policed, do not represent local people, what is the point of having them?’
It was always going to be a struggle to pull in the voters in the middle of November, and if the Tories fail at their conference to muster the necessary enthusiasm for these elections, it will be read not just as a failure of the government’s policy, but also as a symptom of the growing disconnect between the party’s leadership and its grassroots.