How the media’s lack of interest helped independent candidates in PCC elections


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9:55 am - November 18th 2012

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by Giselle Green

I’m certainly not defending David Cameron’s apparent belief that it is the media’s job to step in when the government has so monumentally failed to publicise them. But if the media sets such a downbeat tone on the PCC elections, it’s not surprising that it rubs off on voters.

I must declare a personal interest here. Following my role as Siobhan Benita’s Head of Media in her London mayoral campaign, I became loosely involved in the campaign of the ultimately successful independent candidate in Kent, Ann Barnes.

I wrote to many national journalists and broadcasters, telling them about her excellent prospects, hoping this might prompt them to use her as part of their national coverage and spark debate on, for example, which independent candidates might have a chance of getting elected or on why so few women were standing.

Nothing doing, other than a couple of lines in the Guardian’s Media Monkey. Interestingly, Ann’s campaign team felt she did receive decent (and fair) news coverage from the local media.

What is clear though is that the national media totally failed to predict the big story of the PCC elections: TWELVE independent candidates being elected, compared to Labour’s 13 and the Tories’ 16.

Paradoxically, the success of independents is related to both the low turnout and the lack of information. Yes, voter apathy and ignorance (whether due to government incompetence, patchy media coverage or November gloom) are valid explanations for the embarrassingly low turnout.

But I think another major reason is that for a public which is so used to voting tribally, this election posed a real problem. Most people instinctively felt it was wrong to have a party political police commissioner.

So where could they turn? With no information and little interest, they just didn’t bother to vote at all. Or spoiled their ballot paper, scrawling as one Sheffield voter did: “no independent therefore none of the above”.

The minority who did vote had done their homework and actively sought out information, leading huge numbers to plump for serious, credible independents, the majority of whom have relevant policing experience as ex-police officers or ex-police authority chairs.

People who had been won over by independent candidates were also more committed and motivated to get out and vote for them, compared with lethargic party political voters.

So what was billed as a bad day for democracy, with turnout at an all time low, may ironically have turned out to be a great day for democracy, with the most appropriate people being elected and voters learning how to put a cross next to the word “independent”.

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Why are people assuming that because a candidate calls him or herself independent, they are more suitable than someone who makes no secret of their party affiliation? They might be even less suitable. Many voters did not turn out, not because an “independent” who shared their views was not on the ballot paper, but because they thought there should not be an election in the first place. Not only, no politics in policing please, but no special interest agitating and populist lynch mobbery either, please. The police serve us all – or should.

Plenty of the party candidates had police or police authority experience too, such as the Labour winner in South Yorkshire who you indirectly slur. Would the voter who wrote this on the ballot paper have voted for any independent whatsoever regardless of their views on policing? What’s so virtuous about that?

Let’s not romanticise ‘Independents’ – in my day it was often a synonym for ‘Tories’ (oh, we’re above politics, you know). Anyway, policing is so deeply implicated in politics in all sorts of ways that I have to wonder how someone allegedly passionate about policing can have no political views. It’s as fatuous to think you can take politics out of policing as it is to think that people with party allegiances have no constructive ideas on the subject.

Yet more lazy accusations that the voter is guilty of apathy – how about the voter was pissed off that such a major constitutional change wasn’t put to a referendum, instead of being barely mentioned in a general election campaign and implemented by a party without a mandate from the electorate.

And how many independents who stood didn’t get elected? Only by citing that figure can your already suspect thesis possibly hold any water.

I would agree that the lack of coverage helped independents because it prevented the main parties from emphasising the pros of their candidates in the manner they usually do – and people do not just vote for a party outside general elections. For instance the LibDem candidate was a former copper, which would have helped him – had anyone known. All anyone knew about the Labour candidate is that he was filling in for the original candidate who was disqualified because of a minor teenage conviction. The Tory was high-profile only in part of the region where he had been council leader but, of all things, cut back PCSOs.

Lo and behold the the only independent standing soundly beat the Tories, Labour and LibDems in that order, and by a substantial margin. With experience as a magistrate and on the police authority she was certainly a credible candidate for the job, and this will have given her a boost. But I got the impression from numerous conversations that across wide areas that many who voted for her didn’t know her, or even that she would be on the ballot before they got to the polling station – they simply chose the only candidate not affilliated with a party. The number of 2nd preferences she received (around 40% of the combined LibDem/Labour vote) also points to her being perceived by many as the anything-but-those-guys candidate if their first choice didn’t emerge.

I think a majority of people do not think the role should be political and an independent candidate gave them a chance to express this (although I find the idea that someone standing for election can somehow remain “not a politician” a little odd). In addition to a independent winning we also had thousands of spoilt balllots, which also indicates just how convinced the voting population at large was that this election was a good idea.

I would also say that in a race with multiple independents, this effect would have been hugely diluted, because people would have no way of telling one from the other. In a way we were lucky that our only independent seems a reasonable choice – it could just as easily have been a tinpot dictator wannabe, most people simply did not know.

More coverage of the election would have been good for the reason that nominal independence can mean just about anything really (as posts 1 and 2 suggest), and not all of it salutory. I daresay the electorate’s skeptical response to the election as a whole is probably quite appropriate, but carries its own risks.

6. Gena Loloabrigadier

Voting for the police, denying prisoners the vote? Isn’t this all about creating a middle class paranoia about the mass of impoverished the coalition are creating and making middle class wankers stakeholders in the capitalist state for the coming civil war? Surely the fewer and fewer who have more and more are the ones that need the police and prisons and no wonder hardly anybody voted for the policing of their own impending impoverishment.

7. Chaise Guevara

@ Briar

“Why are people assuming that because a candidate calls him or herself independent, they are more suitable than someone who makes no secret of their party affiliation?”

Because we want these guys making decisions based on the community’s needs, not party interests.

We have a District Councillor (pretty useless, fully supporting the council at every turn, completely captured by the institution she was voted in to police).
She is a dyed in the wool Tory in a safe Tory constituency, serving on a council split along Lib Dem/Tory lines.
In 1997 (or thereabouts) and sensing the public mood she jumped the Tory ship, stood as an independent and was duly re-elected to the council where she kept the Tories in power and was rewarded with a seat (as an independent) in the Tory Cabinet.
She continued to vote in support of Tory policy throughout.
As the popularity of the Left faded, she returned to the Tory Fold, was re-elected again as a Tory where she continues to ‘serve’ to this day.
The story of an independent councillor.
Trust none of them, they are all liars and mostly thieves.

Here, in Hull and the East Riding (and further afield within the Humberside Constabulary area, there was no shortage of media interest and publicity. That may, in part, have been because of the former Deputy PM and Rt Hon MP for Hull East, Lord Precott, was one of the one of those competing for the new role of PCC.

Indeed, the Hull Daily Mail was accused of giving far too much favourable publicity to Lord Lardarse, as he’s unkindly referred to in Hull and district.

I felt that both the Hull Daily Mail and BBC TV’s Look North programme, from the Hull studios gave much publicity to the contest. I feel that this contributed to the realtively high turnout in the election of the Humberside PCC: 19.15% of the registered electorate.

But, locally, the election was interesting in many ways. In addition to NewLab, OldCon, LibDem and UKIP candidates, there were three independents, one of them a retired Humberside police superintendant.

Sadly, one local candidate was the racist, mysoginist, homophobe MEP, Godfrey Bloom. And, in truth, former Tory MP, Walter Sweeney, was also closely allied to the unholy BNP/UKIP alliance.

The Tory East Riding councillor, Matthew Grove, was elected after a count of second preferences.

Although he has flip-flopped about privatising the police force, I’ll give him a chance to prove himself – but not for long!

10. David Bradley

Once again the arrogance of the westminster village is showing through you say “voter apathy and ignorance (whether due to government incompetence, patchy media coverage or November gloom) are valid explanations for the embarrassingly low turnout”
The Government lay the blame at the foot of the lack of media coverage
Labour lay the blame at the foot of the Government
But one one will look at the real reason and that is that not many people actually trust politicians and now when people to vote they tend to vote as they have always voted
becuse as many people will tell you “it doesn’t matter who you vote for their all the same they always tell lies (Nick Clegg he promise a new type of politician on who word we could trust haha) ”
You only have to look at the expenses scandal to see how far apart mps really are from the voter in the street when it blew up in their faces most of them said “it’s ok i have paid it all back and it was just bookkeeping errors anyway and we are sorry” and then a few sacrificial lambs were thrown in to the courts in the hope that that would keep everyone happy but no big fish like jackie smith how much did she get away with
So don’t bury your heads in the sand or we will end up with a very extreme party in Government because they will tell people what they want hear and people will think what the hell all the others lie anyway so let’s give them a go

11. some bloke in Kent

No told me I had a vote. Probably wouldnt of bothered anyway but still…

This was an election where being non-political or above politics made sense. How many candidates stood on a platform of “I won’t politicise the police” – which was a very appealing message on these elections.

You sometimes hear a similar message in council or general elections but it doesn’t really work. Everyone knows a councillor or an MP is a politician. And if you have any understanding of how councils or the Commons work, you probably also realise that an independent MP or councillor will find it very hard to get anything done, sitting alone in a corner.

‘Or spoiled their ballot paper, scrawling as one Sheffield voter did: “no independent therefore none of the above”.

Most of the spoilt papers I’ve heard of involved people either writing ‘BATMAN’ or a crudely drawn penis. They Obviously have much more sophisticated voters in Sheffield.

14. some bloke in Kent

I would of voted for Batman…or a penis.

For an election that had so little media and political party attention there’s an awful lot of nonsense that’s been bandied about (and this article is a better one to be honest).

Firstly, let’s cut to the chase. Unless I’m wrong, all that’s happened is the function of a panel have been transferred to one individual who is held to account by a panel. CAN SOMEONE TELL ME IF THAT IS WRONG? (sorry for the capitals I just think this is a key question)

Secondly, given that, we have to decide, is it better the new or current way. Now, I’m against elected mayors in general (particularly if they become a dictatorship) and Presidents like in the US, so I’m inclined against this, but willing to think deeper.

Consider the current set-up. It appears to be completely unaccountable (do you know any of the names of people on it?), made up of a mixture of people who have various other jobs, who probably aren’t paid for this role, and have minimal time to commit to it (although I have no idea really because until this election I had no idea they existed, and it sounds like others still don’t know they exist). Those roles were already to a degree ‘political’ (what does that even mean?!?!?!) because local councillors were or them.

Now, given the scandals that have emerged over phone hacking, child sex abuse not investigated (whether by celebrities, care homes, gangs in deprived communities on young white girls, etc.), Hillsborough, and other things besides, this would indicate that the current structures aren’t performing great (obviously I don’t know whether these exact structures were in place then – perhaps they’ve improved). Now, imagine someone comes to you as a member of the Police Authority (they’ve somehow discovered your name) and alleges police corruption – do you have enough time and energy to react? And will you be able to pursue the rest of the panel to pursue this? In fact, what’s your incentive to investigate it? You’re not paid, and you risk your other jobs if you take it on, plus it could all get covered up by the rest of the panel. On the other hand, as a PCC, if it later comes out there was a scandal and you didn’t respond, you’ll be out at the next election and your name tarnished. You’ll have the time and energy to investigate it because it’s your full time role. You are a clear person to be held accountable, and in addition to corruption, etc., if funds are mis-allocated you are threatened with deselection at the next election. And let’s not forget that there still is a panel support you and hold you to account, so you’re not a complete maverick.

Therefore is this not a positive change to be made?

@4 Richard – 52 listed as “Independent”; 140 who stated a Party affiliation. 30 Party wins, 11* Independent (* OP must be counting Surrey’s Kevin Hurley of the Zero Tolerance Party as an Independent)

In terms of percentages Independents did almost identically to Parties; that is unusual.

17. Chaise Guevara

@ 16 FlipC

“In terms of percentages Independents did almost identically to Parties; that is unusual.”

It’s interesting. On the one hand, the lack of coverage would make you expect people to just pick a party as a name they recognise. On the other hand, independents seem to make more sense when you’re just voting for that one position, not also the general makeup of government, and the low turnout could have helped reduce the effect of party behemoths. I’d be interested to learn how many people voted for an independent they knew nothing about just to show that they didn’t want a party member.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Jason Brickley

    How the media’s lack of interest helped independent candidates in PCC elections http://t.co/wEiEkgWD

  2. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – How the media’s lack of interest helped independent candidates in PCC… http://t.co/MmKNKKeu

  3. Sunny Hundal

    The media’s lack of interest helped independent candidates in PCC elections says @GiselleG7 – http://t.co/FpDL3Eec

  4. Mark Nixon

    How the media’s lack of interest helped independent candidates in PCC elections | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/XYH517fJ via @libcon

  5. Giselle Green

    The media’s lack of interest helped independent candidates in PCC elections says @GiselleG7 – http://t.co/FpDL3Eec

  6. MustBeRead

    From @GiselleG7: How the media’s lack of interest helped independent candidates in PCC elections http://t.co/89pJHAN9

  7. Siobhan Benita

    The media’s lack of interest helped independent candidates in PCC elections says @GiselleG7 – http://t.co/FpDL3Eec

  8. Giselle Green

    .@MustBeRead: From @GiselleG7: How media’s lack of interest helped indy PCC candidates http://t.co/sOdOqsaW" full article @TopOfTheCopsCom

  9. Maps Man

    Which I suppose is a good thing? MT @sunny_hundal: The media’s lack of interest helped independents in #PCC elections: http://t.co/BRwgXFNO

  10. Meriel123

    The media’s lack of interest helped independent candidates in PCC elections says @GiselleG7 – http://t.co/FpDL3Eec

  11. Joel Pearce

    Great article by @GiselleG7 on how media caused independents to win in #pcc elections http://t.co/2vjEAbWX (via @libcon)

  12. oliver bishop

    How the media’s lack of interest helped independent candidates in PCC elections | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/HqmGvBTA via @libcon

  13. Shaka Sky

    How the media’s lack of interest helped independent candidates in PCC elections | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/HqmGvBTA via @libcon





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