Andrew Allison is head of campaigns at The Freedom Association.
I have voted in every election since turning 18 years old, apart from one – and that was the European Parliament elections in 1999, when I was working away from home and failed to register for a postal vote in time. But other than that, I have placed a cross in every district, county, unitary, and general election I have been eligible to vote in, including the last Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) election. Unless something changes, though, I will not be voting in the PCC election this year – the only election taking place where I live on May 5, next Thursday.
Why? Quite simply, no-one has asked me for their vote. I haven’t received a leaflet from any of the candidates, and no-one representing them has knocked on my door. If I didn’t work full-time in politics, I wouldn’t know an election is taking place. The polling card that was mailed to me at the end of March (ridiculously early, in my opinion) would have been forgotten about, and the election would have passed me.
Some people will say that all of the information I need is available online. If you are that interested, they will add, why don’t you bother to find out yourself? That is missing the point. The whole point of elections is that candidates put their names forward, are selected, have their nomination papers signed, and then ask the electorate to trust them and lend them their vote. This is simply not happening in my part of the country.
I live in a safe Conservative seat: Beverley and Holderness. My MP, Graham Stuart, has a majority of 12,203. My three East Riding of Yorkshire councillors are also Conservative, and out of 67 councillors in the East Riding, 51 are Conservative – not that I ever hear from any of my councillors from one election to another. After last year’s local elections, they couldn’t even be bothered to post “thank you” leaflets.
But you would think that because my area is so rock-solid Conservative that those councillors would be able to organise a leaflet drop. The Humberside Police area may have many safe Conservative areas, but it has many safe Labour areas, too – Hull being the most obvious example. Every vote counts, yet despite this, nothing has arrived from the Conservative candidate – the current PCC, Matthew Grove.
All this made me wonder if this problem of non-communication was just happening where I live; it appears not. I spoke to Tim Iredale, the BBC’s Political Editor for Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and he told me: “I know nothing of my candidates in West Yorkshire, and I take more of a keen interest than most!”
Quite – and so do I. There are many elderly people, who we know are the most likely to vote, who haven’t a clue who the candidates are and what is included in their manifestos. Many are like my 75 year-old mother: they don’t have internet access because they are not interested in going online. They obtain their daily dose of news from newspapers and watching TV news bulletins.
As Paul Goodman mentioned in his recent article on this site about Barack Obama’s intervention into the Brexit debate, they don’t live their lives in the Westminster Bubble. Those of us who are passionately interested in politics can forget that we are not normal people. The vast majority of them are more interested in earning a living, caring for children or elderly relatives, their hobbies, supporting their football team, and so on. Politics to them is something they become involved with only when they have to.
I have always been supportive of PCCs. They can make a positive difference. I accept that they can also make things worse, but the same may be said of any elected politician. If the voters get it wrong, they at least have the opportunity to rectify the mistake. Under the old system of police authorities, no-one knew who was responsible for holding the police to account – and the truth was, they seldom did.
The excuses trotted out for a low turnout at the inaugural PCC elections in 2012 were that PCCs were new, that people didn’t understand what they did, and that November is not a good time to hold elections. What will the excuses be when the turnout is equally low this year? Voters have had three and half years to get used to them. By now, we should have an idea about what they do and have done. Only last week, Alan Billings, South Yorkshire’s PCC, suspended the chief constable. PCCs have powers that affect us all. These elections are taking place in May (although weather-wise I think that the temperatures were higher in November 2012 than they are now!), but unless we know who the candidates are, and what’s in their manifestos, how can we make an informed decision? We can’t.
So unless something changes in the next few days and at least one of the candidates bothers to get in touch, I shall be sitting this election out. If they can’t be bothered to ask me for their vote, why should I bother turning out to vote for one of them?