22/11/2012 04:00 GMT | Updated 21/01/2013 05:12 GMT

Downing Street Must Learn to Harness the Crowd or Face Revolting Results

Last week's Police and Crime Commissioner election is set to go down in British history as having had the lowest participation levels ever seen, earning the Prime Minister a reputation for being the only politician who couldn't organise a vote in a polling booth.

Downing Street has been quick to point the finger at the media for failing to report on the elections, while the Electoral Commission has turned that finger back on itself, accusing the Government of refusing to heed warnings over voter engagement in light of the "unfamiliar time of year" that the elections took place.

Cameron has said that he predicts that "the turnout will be much higher next time around". Perhaps. But not for the reasons that he suggests.

Fortunately, the old adage rings true: all publicity is good publicity. The British public has learned more about these elections through the negative press generated by their failings than any government-launched initiative to promote them. Headlines produce debate, and are an incredibly useful way to get people talking.

However, while these elections have gained column space in the national media, it's clear that by refusing to take charge of the election narrative, the government has lost face. By distancing itself from the elections and refusing to promote them for fear of being criticised about their cost, the government has been seen not only to have wasted money, but to have lost political credibility which is in short supply in the austerity era.

If the aim of these elections was to promote localism and community engagement, it's a wonder that they didn't try to engage in a dialogue with these communities in the first place.

You cannot have democracy without putting people first, as an idea - no matter how good or innovative - cannot sustain itself. Dialogue is key to the success of any relationship, political or otherwise - and this is a lesson the government will have to learn quickly if it's to recover itself.

By looking at institutions that have managed rouse the public into voting en masse over the past year - from Britain's Got Talent to I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! - we can really see what makes it tick: the Great British Unwashed are cruel and will systematically sacrifice talent and sustain torment in the name of entertainment when given full reign over a story.

This summer saw gossip columns rife with protestations over the voting out of musically talented contestants such as Ryan O'Shaughnessy in favour of a dancing dog called Pudsey and her trainer - all in the name of entertainment. Recent weeks have stirred similar scandal over the treatment of soap star Helen Flanagan on I'm a Celebrity..! The public routinely voted to have her subjected to eating delicacies such as ostrich anus and cockroaches in the show's infamous Bushtucker trials, and then lambasted the star for being a 'wimp' when she failed to rise to the challenge. Barrels of laughs.

Sunday night's snafu came in the form of the X Factor when bookies' favourite Ella Henderson was voted off. What many fail to realise is that the show isn't a singing contest - it's a ratings war. The audience wants a soap opera, and the promoters manage this admirably. Ms Henderson may have had the voice, but she couldn't provide the banter, so the audience gave the show a helping hand. The negative publicity generated by the shock move will doubtless attract viewers, generating a spike in ratings and putting a smile on advertisers' faces.

All of this is simply to highlight the power of the public and its cruelty. If the government is to create engagement between the police and the polis, it will need to engage in the first place - as failure to do so can lead to revolting results.