The biggest talking point about the Police and Crime Commissioner elections is the pitiful turnout. The universal reason for this is put down to apathy but from my experience it is the opposite, it is because of:
- Anger at the feeling that PCC’s were being imposed without consultation
- Anger that there was no mailshot
- Anger at politicians
The disconnect between the parties and the electorate grows as the anger grows, but still we just don’t seem to have learnt the lessons of the expenses debacle. Now the first two things we can honestly direct at the coalition, the third thing we have to put our hands up to as well.
Most MPs (on both sides) were claiming legitimately, there was no technical wrongdoing but it was perceived as such and an abuse of those who had voted those MPs into their very prestigious positions. The letter of the law was rigidly, in most cases, stuck to, the spirit of the law however trailed distantly out of view. The constant ‘revelations’ of what is seen as abuse of the expenses gravy train just turns people off from what they see as selfish, greedy party politicians and we have to put a stop to this, now.
As a consequence of this manipulation – albeit legally – of expenses, the electorate just do not trust us to do the right thing and our levels of probity are questioned. People want to know ‘what’s in it for you?’ They just do not trust politicians to do things for the greater good but only for political or financial gain. Independents were seen as more reliable, more honest, although effectively buying their positions (some even being in receipt of good pensions from the police areas that they now have to oversee!). This is all going back to the days when only the wealthy could aspire to elected office, yet because they did not carry the stigma of party politics they were seen as more reliable.
I have been shot down in the past for highlighting the disconnect between Labour and our voters, saying that the electorate (and in particular our voters) are sick and tired of politicians. I was told that politics has done an awful lot of good, that it was politics that gave us the NHS and even the police. All that good though is forgotten in the murky waters of the electorate’s disconnection and now some feel that politicians have let the NHS down so badly that there is a party to protect the NHS from party politicians.
To reengage the electorate we have to have something different – something more trustworthy – to offer. Our levels of probity must be ‘triple A rated’
We must not only be squeaky clean but be seen to be squeaky clean as well.
We must set our own rules, tougher and more transparent than those of parliament. We can lead the way and show the people of Great Britain that we are different, that we have had a good spring clean and that there will no tolerance of manipulation of expenses, but most importantly it will be seen to be absolutely clear.
We must be rooted in community as we were when we grew into a movement of the people, where we can become known and trusted by those who vote for us. The electorate will understand what drives us and what makes us want to serve our communities. There are really no such things as ‘safe seats’ anymore. Bradford West showed us that. We cannot take our electorate for granted we have to show them we are on their side.
Is this something that affected the PCC elections in particular? No, but it highlights what is going on with the electorate. Levels of turnout fall, or in this case plummet, democracy is in the hands of fewer people and we continue to pat ourselves on the back for doing what we have always done and not learning what we must now do. We have to have something fresh, dynamic and most of all trustworthy to offer the people of this country.
We must regain our voters trust, and we need to do it before the next election otherwise it wont be long before the turnout for the PCC elections becomes that of a general election. And that would be a sad day indeed.
Harriet Yeo is chair of Labour’s NEC and stood as PCC candidate for Kent