November 16, 2012 8:21 pm

Mainstream parties wounded in police polls

The UK’s first police and crime commissioner elections inflicted wounding defeats on both main parties on Friday as the Labour grandee Lord Prescott lost in Humberside, and a historically low turnout cast doubt on one of the Conservatives’ flagship reforms.

The most significant wins were among the independent candidates who claimed 12 out of 41 posts, indicating that voters feared party candidates would politicise the job. The Tories won 16 posts and Labour 13, while the Liberal Democrats, who had only fielded candidates in around half the seats, failed to win any.

No official national turnout has yet been released, but the figure is likely to be around 15 per cent, lower than any previous local or national poll. Some of the largest force areas – the West Midlands, Merseyside and Thames Valley – saw the lowest participation, with just 12 per cent exercising their vote.

Jenny Watson, chair of the Electoral Commission, said this was “a concern for everyone who cares about democracy”, and promised to carry out a thorough review into the government’s running of the election, which will be published early next year.

One of the biggest surprises of the day was the defeat of charismatic Labour former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott in Humberside by the Tory candidate Matthew Grove. The PCC bid was widely touted as being a final fling in Lord Prescott’s five-decade long political career, which took him from grassroots trade union activism to the highest rungs of the Labour party.

In other high-profile defeats, the Tory ex-minister Michael Mates failed to win the Hampshire post, which was instead won by the independent Simon Hayes, the former police authority chairman.

Peter Neyroud, former head of the National Police Improvement Agency and an ex-chief constable, criticised ministers for having done an “exceedingly poor job” of getting out and explaining the role of PCCs to the electorate.

“Theresa May has managed to achieve the lowest turnout in any local or national election in the UK,” he added. “That should make her consider her own position”.

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