This is how democracy ends: Not with violence but with a shrug

Someone has suggested that more people might have voted for participants in today’s ‘bushtucker trial’, on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, than for candidates in the police and crime commissioner elections.

The suggestion was made on the BBC’s ‘live blog’ as results were awaited for the least effective exercise of democracy in British history. Both votes took place yesterday

Voter turnout was expected to be around 15 per cent – the worst ever result in a peacetime election, totalling only two-thirds of the previous worst-ever result, 1999’s European Parliament vote. This statistic raises the obvious observation:

This is not democratic.

How can it be? The vast majority – around 85 per cent of those entitled to vote – never bothered to turn up.

Already the speculation machine is churning out possible reasons for that: Not enough was spent on the election; the government should have funded a mail-out to all voters, explaining what was going on and who their local candidates were; many people did not even receive a leaflet from their candidates; people were being asked to traipse down to a polling station in the middle of winter (actually it’s still technically autumn); it was a dark and wet day.

No. Here’s the reason:

It is a bad idea and the vast majority of the population aren’t stupid enough ever to accept that it is a good one.

As I write this, only one result is in – Wiltshire will have a Conservative police commissioner. One may safely assume that Angus McPherson, elected by a fraction of a 15.3 per cent turnout – and those who did vote had no less than five other candidates to choose from – will be a cheerleader for Tory policies of privatisation and staff cutbacks.

He will receive £70,000 a year to be a figurehead. The people of Wiltshire might just as well have elected the Cerne Abbas Giant.

Bear in mind that the – what is it? – £100 million spent on this election could have funded an extra 3,000 police officers. Instead, the Tory-led Coalition is axing 15,000.

Responding to criticism over the election turnout, the live blog told us policing minister and serial Question Time liar Damian Green said the PCCs were a new idea that would need time for people to get used to.

Mark Easton, the BBC’s Home editor immediately responded: “Real flaw was the public were never persuaded they needed elected police commissioners.”

This is the truth of it – and the idea of commissioners affiliated to political parties was anathema to voters. That’s why they stayed away in droves. Look at these responses, all taken from the live blog (I’m keeping it there to show the strength of feeling on just one news outlet).

John Amos in Plymouth emailed: “I am unhappy that political candidates came first and second in Wiltshire. Police Commissioners should not be political. We do not want a politicised police force.”

Had the choice only been between the three main parties’ stooges I would have spoiled the paper. This will be a disaster for policing,” wrote ‘Richard’ on the BBC news website (and quoted in the live blog).

Araura Berkeley in Glastonbury emailed: “I did vote but am very disappointed in the lack of proper information on candidates – I had early on requested the full info on all my candidates but had to wait until the official leaflets were put through all doors. This was very late on and there was no telephone number whereby I could quiz any of the candidates about their manifesto.”

Nigel Coldwell tweets: Don’t assume low turnout is apathy. I actively didn’t vote. Would’ve spoiled paper but I thought they’d count it in turnout.

Peter Wilson commented on the BBC News website: “Voted last night and learned on arrival that there was a second choice system if there were more than two candidates. Asked how that would work and no-one knew. Presiding officer looked in their information book and still no answer.”

So: A bad idea, handled in a shambolic way.

The Conservatives will say the low turnout is not undemocratic, and people will warm to the idea of having commissioners once they see it in practice.

The response from their opponents will be just as predictable: The next time a union calls a strike, and gets a mandate for it on a low turnout, that will not be undemocratic either.

And you never know, once people see a really big strike happening, they might warm to that as well!

3 thoughts on “This is how democracy ends: Not with violence but with a shrug

  1. Mike Sivier

    It’s probably wrong to comment immediately on your own post but some of this stuff is too good to omit:
    According to the BBC: “The Electoral Commission is to launch a review of the Police Commissioner elections in the wake of the low turnout. The Commission says it regard the turnout as ‘a concern for everyone who cares about democracy’.”
    I’m glad they agree with the above article!
    Peter Henley, the BBC’s political editor, South of England has tweeted: ‘Impressed by creativity of Thames Valley spoiled ballots – from “A plague on all your houses” to “Young men died in the trenches for this?”‘
    But on a more sinister note, Grant Shapps, Conservative party chairman, says people will vote next time round when they feel the effect on their neighbourhood. Chilling.

  2. Chris Tandy

    Theresa May (BBC R4 PM) was giving the impression that this was in effect, a ‘dry run’ for the next PCC election, so small turnout was inevitable and, well, almost expected. Thanks for pissing 100 million quid up the wall theresa.

  3. Graham

    I dashed down to the polling station with 10 mins to spare. Spoiled my vote, then photographed the spoiled paper and later posted it on my blog. I don’t think I’ve ever regarded a vote with so much contempt before.

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