Turnout concerns mar police votes

Only one in seven people went to the polls to vote for police commissioners in England and Wales

Only one in seven people went to the polls to vote for police commissioners in England and Wales

First published in National News © by

A post-mortem is under way into the first elections for police commissioners in England and Wales after the poll was marred by a record-low turnout.

Only around one in seven bothered to go to the ballot box, forcing David Cameron and Conservative ministers to defend a flagship policing reform and deny the role lacked a popular mandate. A detailed inquiry has been ordered by the Electoral Commission, the watchdog accusing the Government of failing to listen to its warnings about potential problems.

Independents were the big winners, a number of former senior police officers and an ex-judge among 12 non-party candidates chosen for the new £100,00-a-year jobs. Another scored a surprise victory over Labour in the Bristol mayoral election.

The other Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) - which replace police authorities for all forces outside London - are either Conservative (16) or Labour (13). The highest-profile casualty was Labour former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott, who lost out to his Tory rival in a second-vote run-off in Humberside.

That result took some of the shine off a convincing win for Labour in the Corby by-election, where it secured a 12.7% swing to snatch the seat back from the Tories with a majority of almost 7,800. Ed Miliband claimed Andy Sawford's win - the party's first Commons seat gain from the Conservatives in 15 years - showed that Middle England was turning its back on David Cameron.

But the Prime Minister sought to play down the reverse as a "classic mid-term result" made worse by the decision of MP Louise Mensch to quit to be with her family in the USA.

Mr Cameron was also forced on the defensive over the PCC elections amid criticism from the watchdog, electoral reform campaigners, opposition parties and one of his own backbenchers. In some cities barely more than 10% voted with one polling station in Newport, Gwent seeing no-one attend all day.

The premier insisted the PCCs did have a mandate despite the turnout being lower than any other in peacetime history and predicted public interest would rise once the commissioners began work.

Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, later said he did not believe the low turnout weakened the authority of the commissioners.

"The individuals have been properly elected in a democratic process and the issue of numbers is absolutely not one for chief constables," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.

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