It is one week to go until the biggest set of polls outside of a general election in UK history, prompting some commentators to bill next Thursday 'the British midterms'. Wales and Scotland both vote for their devolved parliaments alongside 13 directly elected mayoralties including Tees Valley, West Midlands and of course London with its assembly. Around 5,000 council seats will be fought across the country alongside the hard fought Hartlepool by-election.
But while next Thursday looks set to be a psephologist's dream, one set of elections has attracted little attention or enthusiasm: the 39 Police and Crime commissioner contests in England and Wales, delayed a year due to Covid. Established by the Coalition government in its initial burst of reforming zeal, PCCs were intended to inject more accountability and make the police 'answerable to the communities they serve.' Nine years on and Mr S thought ahead of polling day it would be interesting to see what the public thought of these positions which command a salary of between £70,000 to £100,000.
A new poll for The Spectator by Redfield and Wilton — with a sample size of 1,500 – quizzed the public on attitudes towards PCCs and policing more general. Despite the best efforts of Line of Duty, almost three in four or 73 per cent of the public do not know the name of their local area’s Commissioner. Asked 'to what extent, if at all, are you familiar with what the role of Police and Crime Commissioner involves?' just 9 per cent went for 'a great deal' with 23 per cent plumping for 'quite a bit' 38 per cent for 'some' and nearly a third or 30 per cent going for 'not at all'.
Commissioners sweating about this general apathy translating into support of abolition should not worry however. By a 12 point margin, those polled preferred to claim the role 'serves an important purpose and should continue to exist' on 39 per cent compared to 27 per cent saying it is 'not necessary and should be abolished.' Satisfaction with policing in respondents' local areas outweighed dissatisfaction by 2 to 1 or 42 per cent to 21 per cent with 53 per cent 'strongly agreeing' or 'agreeing' that it was a safe place against 16 per cent disagreeing or strongly disagreeing.
Interestingly, the numerous and repeated blunders by over zealous police officers this past year – such as Merseyside police's hate crime campaign – appears to have not dented the public's faith in their bobbies. Some 80 per cent said police officers in their area were 'generally' or 'somewhat' approachable while on the question of how well the police had enforced Covid restrictions, just 13 per cent said they had done so 'too strictly' compared to 31 per cent who went for 'too lightly'. The most popular answer was 'the right amount' on 37 per cent – music to the ears, no doubt, of embattled Met chief Cressida Dick.
Given the PCC elections attracted just 15.1 per cent vote in 2012 and then 26.6 per cent in 2016, could this (finally) be the year when turnout finally hits a third of the electorate? Given that the elections cost £66,8 million in its first election and the Cabinet Office is refusing to release the cost of the second, Mr S would certainly hope it gives the public value for its money.