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Gloucestershire PCC election sketch: Politics and policing don't mix

By RupertJ  |  Posted: November 17, 2012

  • Counting the votes at Stratford Park Leisure Centre in Stroud_

  • Candidates Martin Surl Rupi Dhanda Victoria Atkins and Alistair Cameron

  • Counting the votes at Stratford Park Leisure Centre in Stroud_2_

  • Returning officer David Hagg with the new Gloucestershire Police and Crime Commissioner Martin Surl

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Gloucestershire voted independent candidate Martin Surl as the new county Police and Crime Commissioner.

Here, journalist Rupert Janisch examines the process and what it revealed about the public attitude to the politicisation of policing:

Anyone who thought this week’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) election was not a political fight should have heard some of the chatter going on at the Stratford Leisure Centre in Stroud yesterday.

The three main parties – Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats – were all trumped by the independent candidate Martin Surl, who cleaned up on the second vote system and left the pre-count Tory favourite stranded in his wake.

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Despite coming a distant third Labour, represented by Rupi Dhanda, claimed a moral victory over the Tories, with one spokesman saying their party rivals had been left with a “bloody nose”.

And at the end of the first count, the Labour and Lib Dem candidates, along with their agents, left the area set aside for those in the running.

No doubt the request to leave was within the rules but it was hardly in the spirit of friendly competition and was a sign that tensions were running high, particularly between the Tories and Labour.

And the poor old Lib Dems, who were confident of doing well at this election, were left rubbing their heads and wondering what they, or perhaps their party on a national scale, had done so wrong that fewer than 9,000 people in the entire county voted for them.

To be fair, none of the parties or the independent candidate will have been overwhelmed by the response of the people of Gloucestershire to the call to the ballot box.

A county-wide average turnout of 17.1 per cent demonstrates how poorly these elections grabbed our attention – whether by insufficient publicity, November elections, a lack of clarity of what the PCC role entails, or a belief that the whole project is an expensive and pointless policy.

Much was made of the high number of spoiled ballot papers – 2,115 out of a total of 80,000 votes cast. Many said these papers showed how disenfranchised the public is with the concept of PCCs, a rebellion against the scheme as a whole.

But in truth, not all of these spoiled papers were deliberately sabotaged by those who chose to use their democratic right to object. Some were mistakes, others were unclear and discounted as a result.

And with more than 470,000 people in Gloucestershire eligible to vote, a few hundred naysayers hardly constituted mass protest.

You suspect that the whole project suffered from the politicisation of it – intentional or otherwise. Party politics are hardly a turn-on for voters, especially when they see a list of candidates from the usual sources in a supposedly apolitical voting process.

Yesterday’s atmosphere at Stratford Park – with an overriding sense of relief among the losing parties that “at least the other lot didn’t win” – would have justified the suspicions of any who held similar fears. Mr Surl’s election may act as a shock to them all.

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  • GlosYap2  |  November 18 2012, 12:10PM

    Noted an interview with Wiltshire PCC that he went out of his way not to mention "private sector" in the context of commissioning services, presumably lumping them under the less noticeable "other organisations" he said was very keen to work with in addition to public sector and volutary providers he explicitly mentioned. Red flag right there people!

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  • Bonkim2003  |  November 17 2012, 10:59PM

    EllJay1 - the independents have to offer something unique to succeed as they don't have a joined up organisation - the established parties have unique themes people assume will be delivered. Independent - means just that and in a collective situation that can mean chaos with many disunited minds. Right or wrong - decisive action is the essence. Then again, there are independent councils managing to be united, governing cabinets or committees constituted with members of different political parties working together.

  • EllJay1  |  November 17 2012, 4:42PM

    I think that the reason so many independants got in was that a lot of electors thought there would be a real chance of one being elected. In a General Election (and slightly less so in a Council Election) an independant has virtually no chance of getting in at all because of the incredible amount of money chucked in by the political parties, which the independant can't match.

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  • Bonkim2003  |  November 17 2012, 1:11PM

    too cynical - I suppose there is variety in opinions and ways of achieving the social good you want - but best to look at all sides and not consider one better than the other.

  • Lecorche  |  November 17 2012, 12:36PM

    Who do you think controls the Lib-Dims if not the Tories,B? I did smile when the big boys and gals,of variegated hues, got the big elbow,though. All in all it was a shambles that should have been declared void and all expenses paid back into the tax pot by the front benches of the coalition. If it had been a union vote with the same turnout for industrial whatever,Cameron would have... go figure!

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  • Bonkim2003  |  November 17 2012, 12:01PM

    Lecorche ??? - this was put in place by the coalition government - as with all other government policies the taxpayers pay - so not just a Tory move to get Tories put in place - give them some credit - only a fool would believe this policy was meant to recruit an army of politically active Tory PCCs. As posted by others - most like to keep politics outside community services. You can see the old Labour bruiser lost in a predominantly Labour Northern County.

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  • Lecorche  |  November 17 2012, 11:49AM

    I don't know if I should laugh or cry. On one hand the Tories stumped up over 2.4 Million quid (of our money) to get a PCC into Gloucestershire.As they did to every one of the 41 positions up for a vote. They still lost. I think that the Politburos of all colours,despite their denials of being worried,are starting to realise they are regarded as obsolete as a way of running the country.

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  • ArchAngel  |  November 17 2012, 11:14AM

    The basic fallacy underlying this article is that politics doesn't exist outside party politics, that is incredibly naive. I was there and didn't feel any particular tension between the Conservatives and Labour. If the Conservatives got a bloody nose then Labour (coming a distant third) very definitely did. Why were there so many Police Officers at this count? (Far more than is normal). They stood around all day doing nothing. I'd ask Martin Surl to look into it but I fear that he'll be trapped in the same group-think as the Police. It would appear that the voters registered their contempt for politicians by rejecting the idea that the politicians with local oversight of the police should be democratically accountable. That seems to be self-defeating. The voters were however badly served by the media who didn't want to promulgate the idea that by introducing PCCs the Conservatives have better democratic policy credentials than the other parties. It doesn't fit the media narrative or the dumbed down stereotypes that the media likes to perpetuate.

  • Bonkim2003  |  November 17 2012, 10:25AM

    Well done - now to the coal face and hopefully make a difference.

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