Jane Kennedy: The Seven Per Cent Solution?

Liverpool has a new crime commissioner, have you heard? What’s what? You don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, join the club.

Former Liverpool MP Jane Kennedy will take up the £85,000 a year post to, well, to do whatever it is that police and crime commissioners do. No-one seems especially sure.

Kennedy won with around 56 per cent of first preference votes on a turnout of 12.7% – seven per cent of the vote. In what sense can that conceivably be called a mandate? If I were Kennedy I’d resign, if it weren’t for the 85 grand and, possibly, the ability to pay her partner out of her expenses again.

Out of 130,000 votes cast around 3,000 were spoiled – the only way voters could register their dismissal of the notion of an elected commissioner. That’s a lot.

Certainly it’s not clear that there is any sort of demand for elected police commissioners – especially when candidates stand with the backing of a political party, essentially politicising managerial roles. What next? Elected NHS Trusts? Sanitation Department Managers? A Labour-approved candidate for leaf-sweeping duties in Sefton Park (tough on leaves, tough on the causes of leaves)?

In a city where partisan dealignment never really happened to any meaningful extent, it was always a sure thing that Jane Kennedy would be elected; just as it was a no-brainer that Joe Anderson would be elected as Mayor. Can that possibly be a good thing?

Like in the Mayoral election, we have a national government that has utterly failed to communicate the need for a whole new layer of bureaucracy that the public will be directly responsible for electing.

Candidates weren’t able to write to the electorate as central government wouldn’t fund it. That meant that those with access to more ready cash could reach more people. No-one knew about the election – and if they did, they didn’t care. Further, if they voted they were more likely to spoil their ballots than in any other recent local election of note – bar the similarly-ignored Mayoral election.

Kennedy went so far as to warn that not voting would “leave the door open for extremists to take control of our police forces”. That warning may come back to haunt her. While no true-blue extremists contested the election, despite Paul Rimmer’s odd claim that God would guide him in the job (obviously not in the campaign, though) and some unpleasant views, the statement drew light to the fact that gave two hoots about this silly election.

As the new commissioner, Kennedy will have the power to appoint and dismiss chief constables, agree budgets and set local policing priorities. At a time when police forces across the country are being scrutinised more than ever before – especially here on Merseyside – the imperative to take an interest in who runs police forces should be clear.

Yet the combination of a process botched by central government, a vague job description, local party politics as usual and the thorough disengagement of the electorate from democratic process means that Jane Kennedy now essentially runs Merseyside Police because even per cent of the electorate chose her.

That’s an absolute shambles. But it’s a result I’m personally grateful for. With any luck it’s weak enough to condemn the whole experiment to quiet dissolution under a future Labour government (who actually opposed elected police and crime commissioners).

Certainly our public services and forces need to engage with the public – and we need to make elected officials of all stripes more accountable. But electing people on tiny turnouts from the usual selection of time-servers and professional politicians isn’t the answer; it’s part of the problem.

  • david
  • Nick

    I agree with your general thrust and conclusion, but a couple of points.

    1. “Around 3,000 were spoiled”.

    In fact, around 3,000 were *rejected*, perhaps not all spoiled in the sense you give.

    Reasons for rejection were:

    a) 641 – being unmarked or wholly void for uncertainty.

    This can mean ballot papers that have a line or a cross drawn through them or a phrase such as ‘none of the above’. BUT – it could also mean that a voter has entered numbers instead of a cross in the first and second choices boxes in a way that is confusing (ie. 2 against the first choice, 1 against the second choice). It could also mean only a second preference is given – counters must not second guess whether this mark was intended to be a first preference.

    b) 1084 – rejected in part.

    As no reference is made to this in the Electoral Commission PPC ‘help mat’ (link below), I’m a little confused as to what this means. Going from the Commission’s Local Elections ‘Dealing with doubtful papers’ guidelines (link also below), it seems to mean that, because the voter is entitled to vote for more than one candidate, a ‘good’ vote has been rejected because the other vote is uncertain.

    Help mat: http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/148529/PCC-Doubtful-ballot-paper-placemat-standard.pdf

    Local Elections ‘Dealing with doubtful papers’:
    http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/87712/LOCAL-dealing-with-doubtful-ballot-papers-WEB.pdf

    c) 1152 – voting for more candidates than voter was entitled to.
    I.e. more than two.

    You (imo, rightly) make the point that “we have a national government that utterly failed to communicate the need for a new layer of bureaucracy.” It is worth adding that, in the case of these 1152 votes, the gov. may have failed to communicate how the first / second choice system was meant to work.

    d) 38 – writing or mark by which voter could be identified.
    Such as a name, address.

    —–

    2. “More likely to spoil their ballots than in any other recent election of note.”

    Actually it’s less, or about the same, if we compare it to the mayoral election:

    Merseyside PCC – 2.2% were rejected.

    Mayoral election – 2.7% were rejected. ALL of these were ‘unmarked or wholly void for uncertainty’, which could imply protest-spoiling. But as this election used the supplementary voting system, it this could also imply confusion over how to mark 1st and 2nd choices (as outlined above).

    AV Referendum – no rejected ballot figures are available on Liverpool.gov.uk.

    L’pool municipal elections 2011 – less than 1 per cent – in this case your argument stands.

  • Nick

    I should add a qualifying statement:

    Of the 2915 rejected votes across Merseyside, only 434 were cast in Liverpool. 417 of this 434 were due to overvoting.

    So, if we’re looking for potential spoilers, it’s not in the Liverpool district.

    Wirral, St Helens, Knowsley and Sefton give overall results for Merseyside but no breakdown for their individual districts. So your guess is as good as mine.

  • http://www.robinbrown.co.uk/ Robin Brown

    But the size of the electorate in the mayoral / PCC elections were different weren’t they?

  • Nick

    Hmm, I assumed percentages would allow us to compare populations in different areas as well as the fact that those populations change in size from year to year.

    (Also: The percentages are worked out based on the turnout numbers, not on the electorate sizes…)

    Maybe the actual numbers for *only* the Liverpool polling district will clarify:

    PCC: 434 rejected ballots out of a turnout of 40606.

    Mayoral contest: 2794 rejected out of a turnout of 98507.

    Electorate sizes were about the same – PCC 321100, mayor 319758.

    I’m wondering if we can infer that if the PCC turnout in Liverpool had been the same as the mayoral turnout the number of rejected ballots would have also been higher? I’m not sure we can. The percentage of rejected ballots might as likely have been lower if more people had voted.

    Certainly I would suggest that people weren’t so incensed with the idea of the PCCs that the felt the need to show it at the ballot box. They just didn’t turn up, and an apathy charge I don’t dispute. The nuance of rejection – and that it doesn’t necessarily mean protest – is what I wanted to highlight.