In 2012 I was one of a significant number of Independent candidates for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. Despite a modest level of publicity paid for by you and me but authorised by the Government, many voters remained at home, in part because they did not know what the election was intended to achive. The fact that the election took place in November during darker evenings, and coincided with no other elections did not help. However there was a lot of publicity from the media who were not focused on other major political stories at the time. In the end about 15% of the electorate turned out to vote, an appallingly small number even by the standards of recent elections in the UK. The money spent to promote the election in 2012 was around £3M or around 5p for every man women and child in the country. Yet despite this the cost of the elections themselves were estimated at some £70M. Clearly every pound of public money is a very scarce resource, however democratic governance is a costly affair, if we were only concerned about money all of us would choose to live in a dictatorship, although the dictator might use their power to syphon off even more money into their personal accounts! Assuming that we are committed to democracy, then we need to understand the value of spending adequate amounts of money on the elections and the value of voting.
The second set of PCC elections are taking place next month in May and in some areas such as Crawley, there will be local elections at the same time. That should help increase turn out and it will probably increase the votes for the parties which are standing in those elections. However elsewhere there is still a need to persuade people to go and vote and whereas in 2012 the media had nothing else to focus on, this year the EU referendum is a major focus for them. One might assume that the Government would have learned from the lack of interest in 2012 and would have increased the budget from the £3M spent in 2012. However the total national budget to promote the PCC elections is a whopping £2,700 one thousandth of the amount spent in 2012! If there is any question that the Government doesn’t care about the election, the senior Government Minister responsible for the process, Theresa May was interviewed by Andrew Marr on BBC2, the main station for those not watching the Marathon. The PCC elections, due in 2 weeks did not get mentioned once, but instead the only issue she discussed was the referendum due 6 weeks later.
The impact of the Government’s strategy of all but ignoring these elections is that the candidates with the biggest budget and able to get their views through the letter boxes of voters can have a disproportionate impact on those who do turn out to vote. To put figures into context when I fought the contest in 2012, the Conservative candidate spent £25,000 of her overall £37,000 budget on leaflets to go into around half of the homes in Sussex. Her nearest rival in financial terms was Labour who spent £5,000 and who also came second in the number of votes cast. The idea that Labour spent twice as much in Sussex in 2012 as the Government are planning to spend in the whole of England and Wales in 2016 is a shocker. Indeed the Conservative war chest in 2012 of £37,000 included £5,000 that came from one local association alone. I came third, a modest 1% behind Labour and my spend was the lowest of the 5 candidates. However my £370 was on top of the £5,000 that I was obliged to find as a deposit. Had the Government done as it should have, and provided each candidate with an election address as they do for General Elections, things might have been very different, but then the wealthy political parties know that all too well. The Conservative Government chose not to pay for publicity so that their candidates can take advantage of the vacuum of information. This is a tawdry way of running an election, but the number of people likely to complain is very small, so why should the Government care?