Over the past couple of weeks the newly elected Police & Crime Commissioners across England and Wales have been sworn in. In case you missed it, this was the other election that was taking place while the news reported on Tory resurgence in Scotland, UKIP insurgence in Wales and a close call for Jeremy Corbyn's Labour in England. As I recently wrote for Policing Insight, it was almost the invisible election.
So what can we take from this month's results? Well for a start, it was by no means the electoral disaster that the dark November 2012 saw with average turnouts down at 15%. This year saw them up by about 10% on average, bringing them closer in line with your typical non-general election year. In fact, in two forces in Wales the turnout neared 50%, though ironically they both elected candidates from Plaid Cymru - a party that wants to do away with the role of PCC.
Thus, with turnouts now up to around 25% - are PCCs here to stay? I'd say so. Though 25% average turnout doesn't give one the largest mandate, it is certainly a step in the right direction, and, frankly, more of a mandate that the previous Police Authorities ever had. Indeed, now the role has survived its second electoral hurdle I think we can expect to see PCCs gather more powers, or their role subsumed into larger mayoral roles (as in London and Manchester). It looks like they're going to get their hands on local fire services, and it's quite likely we'll see them taking a greater role in probation in due course too, I expect.
Labour has dropped their opposition to the role, and perhaps you can see why given many of the newly elected PCCs are Labour. Their PCCs give the party a frontline governing role whilst still being in opposition in government, as such a platform for credibility (assuming their candidates stay scandal free).
Given the increased turnout this year was due to the number of local and assembly elections taking place across England and Wales, it is perhaps unsurprising to see more people voting along party lines. The number of 'Independent' PCCs took a tumble down to just 3 from 12 in 2012. Given the expense of running a campaign, and the personal flak someone has to take in the risk driven world of policing, I don't expect we'll see many independent candidates in future either. Which is a shame in many respects, but a reality of the machine required to run a political campaign.
The fun now will be watching which PCCs keep their Chief Constables on. One of the greatest worries for senior police officers at the time that this role was proposed by government was that PCCs would seek to 'clear out' as a matter of routine at each electoral cycle. The theory being that each new PCC will want to stamp their authority on the force by putting in 'their chosen chief.' This was a worrying prospect for Chief Constables' career options, let alone consistent leadership in police forces.
As it was only the first time round in 2012 we weren't able to tell whether Chiefs had a right to be worried, perhaps this time, over the next six months, we'll be able to establish if there's a pattern.
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