The Party Line

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The Party Line
Independent candidates did fairly well in the recent PCC elections. Supporters of the main political parties stayed at home and the Lib Dems did not put up candidates in many seats.

Independent politicians claim to be apolitical, but they are simply politicians who do not tell the public what they truly believe. A Party affiliation tells voters something about the values of a candidate. I may not agree with these values but at least they are explicit; for example we know that a Tory will believe in a free market economy and thinks there is a place for profiteering in health and education. Before the Coalition, the Liberal Democrats used to believe in Gay marriage, civil liberties and electoral reform. We know that a UKIP candidate will do nothing apart from blame the EU for everything. A Green Party candidate advocates sustainable development, a balanced energy policy and protection of the environment. The Labour Candidate believes in social justice, community cohesion, progressive taxation and being rewarded for hard work.

Independent candidates are not so open about their beliefs. This can sometimes be an advantage. When talking to voters an independent can simply agree with the voter. They can agree with every position on every matter and change colour like a chameleon. They can also disagree with all parties and join in with the ‘plague on all your houses’ approach to politics. Make no mistake, Independent candidates are politicians. Several groups of ‘Independents’ in local councils even belong to registered political parties calling themselves the and have party leaders.

There were Independent candidates in the PCC election who were actually Lib Dems. There are Independents in Labour voting areas who are actually Tories. Rather than being apolitical these candidates are just hiding their views from the electorate.

A Labour candidate will have Labour values are Labour values, and The Lib Dems have shelved their values in return for a taste of power, but at least voters know what these values are. Political parties get a lot of criticism, but when you put an X next to a Labour rose you know exactly what you are voting for.

Also from Think Left:

PCC Elections – A How-to Guide in how not to run an Election

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PCC Elections – A How-to Guide in how not to run an Election

First posted on November 18, 2012 by 

Along with thousands of others up and down the country, I was one of the people verifying and counting the votes as they came in on Thursday night and Friday. I’ve done this a few times before, at both local elections and one general election. The PCC election was unlike any I’ve seen before. Here are a few quick observations from seeing the votes come in.

I was working in the West Yorkshire PCC area. I saw the ballot boxes being opened and helped count the votes. The most votes I saw in one box was 152 and the lowest, 4. 4 votes! In most polling stations there were three staff, working from 7am from 10pm. I’m glad I wasn’t one of them. I heard that one polling station in Leeds District had no voters during the whole day.

Turnout amongst postal voters though was relatively high – about 35-40%. Usually, turnout is in the 65-75% range for postal votes. This means turnout at the polling stations must have been only 5-10%.  Overall turnout was 13.76%. This is just incredible.

My final observation related to the number of votes was the staggering number of rejected ballot papers. Generally, at a parliamentary election for example, the number of rejected papers is very low  – certainly lower than 0.5% of the total votes cast, but in the West Yorkshire PCC election, there were 8,200 rejected ballot papers, almost 4% of the total cast and just under half the number of votes got by the Lib Dem candidate. As soon as we started to unfold the votes from the ballot box, it was clear something weird was happening. There were a huge number of ballot papers with messages written on them, with the two main themes being – not enough information to make an informed choice; and do not agree with having an election for PCC at all. I have never seen this before and it will be interesting to see if this is repeated in future elections.

So why was turnout so low?

Anecdotally, people were angry about the lack of information they had received about the elections. Candidates at elections are usually allowed one free mailshot to voters. This time the Government decided not to fund that. People didn’t seem to know what Police & Crime Commissioners would do, and they certainly didn’t know who the candidates were or what their platforms were. Holding elections in November, and in isolation from more traditional elections was crazy and guaranteed a low turnout. It’s hard not to conclude that this was deliberate.

Preferential Voting System

The new voting system also seemed to confuse and irritate people. After the referendum for changing the voting system to AV last year, during which voters were subject to strong messages from the Tory Party against AV, and for first past the post, the first election they introduce is not using first past the post, but something that looks remarkably similar to AV. I just don’t understand it. Why are different voting systems OK for other elections, but not for Westminster?

The preferential vote system is easy to understand in that people get that you vote for your favourite and also your second favourite. However, there seemed to be very little information given about what that second preference would ultimately mean. Many people didn’t know that if one candidate didn’t gain 50% of the vote in the first round, then the second preference votes of the eliminated candidates would be reallocated. From the votes I saw, I would say around 15% hadn’t stated a second preference and another 5-10% voted for the same candidate first and second. This were rejected in the second round. In a race with more than 4 candidates, it is very unlikely that one candidate will get more than 50% in the first round, so a second count was nearly always needed. Spare a thought for the poor vote counters! In West Yorkshire, it was clear the Labour candidate had won after the first round – he had 43% of the vote against less than 30% for the second place, but we were required to count second preferences nonetheless. After this second count, the Labour candidate still didn’t have over 50%, but was duly elected. This process took around 300 staff 8 hours to complete, even though there were only 220,000 votes to count. I dread to think how long it would have taken if turnout had been 50% or more. For me, it has to be either first past the post or (even better) proportional representation. These other systems just seem to be a bit of a fudge.

So Who’s to Blame

If we want to have a strong democracy, we need to maximise the number of people engaged in the democratic process, Governments should do everything possible to maximise turnout, and that means holding elections at the right time of year, combining them with other elections and providing the public with sufficient information for them to be able to make informed decisions. The Electoral Commission and Electoral Reform Society are both well placed to provide expert advice on how best to do this, and for whatever reason, they seem to have been ignored by the Government. I understand the Electoral Commission are now going to hold an inquiry into the whole shambles of these elections. The Government, instead of blaming the media, should be hanging their heads in shame over this, and then act quickly to ensure it never happens again.

I final point I want to make is that the union strike ballots over the last two years have generally had low turnouts (in the 20-25% range). This has prompted Government ministers to question their legitimacy and start to suggest strike laws should be made even more tough, so it was interesting to see ministers over the last couple of days saying that the mere fact that people were able to vote for a PCC made the process legitimate and an improvement over the previous system. I’ll be interested to see what these same ministers say the next time union members vote to take industrial action, and whether our media will pick them up on this.

Think Left says:

Writing in a completely different context, Richard Murphy inadvertently provides the schema for @alittleecon’s guide on how not to run an election!

… it is a culture and a politics of abuse that is to blame. It’s the same culture and politics that is indifferent to democracy and treats it with contempt, seeking for example to reduce the number of MPs and their role whilst offering faux democracy for police commissioners.

http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2012/11/18/google-amazon-and-starbucks-what-their-defenders-dont-get/

Related post:  Web voices on Police and Crime Commissioners’ Elections

Web voices on Police and Crime Commissioners’ Elections

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(These excellent comments were collected from different sources and I have deliberately made them anonymous)

No-one wanted this change… The original system wasn’t broken. So why did they impose it on us?  Waste of time and money. I predict the demise of the new system before the 4 years are up.

The police authorities already had democratically elected councillors, magistrates and independent members to oversee the police service.

We now have a system imposed on us which will be impossible to work…. Mrs X phones her local councillor at 11pm to complain about yobs in her street.  Councillor says “nothing to do with me, contact your PCC.”  PCC says “that’s an operational matter, contact the chief constable.”  Chief Constable says “I am following the policy set for me by concentrating on drugs in another area.”  Everyone points at someone else!

All public services are suffering budget cuts, so how will a police commissioner change anything? They might be able to re-arrange the deckchairs, but they won’t alter the course of the ship.

Thursday was NOT the dismal day for democracy…. Democracy is a process which needs involvement – association with, belief in, and collusion with – with government. Participation is the evidence that it is working well…. Where each participant has no belief in the process, and people feel estranged from the choices being offered to them, then terrible things happen, such as we have seen today…..Each “disaster” can be explained in at least two ways, and the ‘political class’ – an entity which is more like the old phrase, ‘the establishment’ or ‘the powerful’ or ‘our rulers’ – should be looking at themselves for the explanation, rather than assuming that ‘the people’ are remiss…..We the people, the workers and the tax-payers are getting very annoyed with always being the first-call for blame. The capitalist crisis was not our fault, that Labour is still tory-light is not our fault, and that an arrogant and conceited coalition thinks we should be pleased to have our police politicised through PCC elections is not our fault either. We just say no…..

The first PCC elections generating lower than 15% turnout is largely down to the fact that few people want their police to be politicised by ideological anti-state rightwingers who do not realise that this step reduces the effective accountability of the police.

It seems to me self-evident that people hate this government in huge numbers. In the past, this hatred would have manifested itself in overwhelming support for the Labour Party, but what we see instead is, at best, lukewarm support for them. Yes, Tory-lite policies are ahead in the opinion polls, but this reflects only the ‘get these Tory bastards out at any cost’ feeling among the majority of the electorate.

What is scary, however, is the complete lack of political engagement that characterises most of the population. The Labour Party was born in a world of liberal economics, but grew out of the dispossessed, both represented and was represented by the dispossessed, and argued emphatically that the dispossessed could create a better world for the dispossessed. Today, the Labour Party (like their supposed sympathisers in the media, like Democrat spin doctors in the USA) believe that only an appeal to ‘the centre’ can secure victory in the future. The entire history of the Labour Party demonstrates that this is untrue. The ‘centre’ is so far to the right in modern politics that is says NOTHING to the majority of the population, whose living standards are declining before their very eyes. This appeal to the so-called centre (which, thirty years ago, would have been regarded as off the scale right-wing Thatcherism, with its myopic belief in the power of the unfettered market to do good, for God’s sake) has stranded an ever-larger section of our society in an apolitical wilderness.

When I was a young working class kid, I didn’t really understand the significance of the working-men’s and Labour Clubs that dotted the streets of the industrial north. I do now. They were a genuine link between the daily struggle of ordinary people working for very little (but striving to keep their families going and their pride intact) and those who were fortunate enough to represent them in a democratic system that gave the workers a voice previously denied to them. That voice could, just for once in our history, be heard LITERALLY, in the working class accents in the House of Commons during the 1970s. Just then, the working class were taken seriously. Today, they are nothing… discarded to the dustbin of history. This is reflected in the horrific state of our cities: abandoned, shuttered and derelict. We have lost the battle.

Our parents were engaged politically because they believed that democracy could secure something for them. And it did: it secured pensions, benefits, respect in the workplace. But why should the offspring of that generation have ANY political concerns? During their lifetimes, everything they have heard on the radio, watched on the TV, read in the newspapers has told them that the shitness of their lives is the product only of their own shitness. Is there one single politician (forget the Conservatives or Liberals…is there one single LABOUR politician) who is willing to stand up for the dispossessed and say: hang on, the multimillionaires who rule your lives do so because they happened to be born multimillionaires, and your life is shit because you happened to be born into shit…but it can be different? No. And that is why you now have record low turnouts in the poorest constiuencies in the UK. We have deliberately created a dispossessed class who will never be capable of engaging with politics. And this can only benefit the continuation of the staus quo.

All attempts by Cameron and co to delegate this away is going to fail.  They will still be held to account for their failure to reorganise the police, reforming and cutting back on the motley variety of police authorities we have now, and creating more specialist units which can deal, for example, with child prostitutution which skips over policing borders, and sophisticated types of fraud, theft and burglary which organise nationally.

Now can we have our Community Health Councils back, please… with democratically accountable local health commissioning to put a spanner in the works of the approaching health service reforms omnishambles.