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Bob Jones: the reluctant police commissioner

Bob Jones: the reluctant police commissioner

🕔16.Nov 2012

Labour politician Bob Jones is the West Midlands’ first Police and Crime Commissioner following an election marred by a record low turnout.

He topped the poll following yesterday’s PCC elections, and then immediately declared that he didn’t think the high-profile post should even exist.

The former police authority finance committee chairman had not wanted PCCs to be introduced, and neither did the Labour Party nationally.

Mr Jones said: “I have taken a sceptical view about this American import. People haven’t voted with their feet and the reason for that is the majority think it’s an unnecessary and expensive change extremely badly executed and appallingly publicised.

“But it is my duty to ensure that the stability of the force is preserved and in the best traditions of British policing make sure there is a community focus.”

The Wolverhampton city councillor easily defeated Conservative Matt Bennett in a second stage run-off under the second preference voting system.

However, the democratic legitimacy of the new PCC was immediately called into question by an appallingly low turnout and Mr Jones said people had “stayed at home” in protest at an unwanted imposition by the Government.

In a trend reflected across the entire country, only 12.3 per cent of people registered to vote in the West Midlands actually did so – a total lower than that ever recorded at a local or national government election in the region.

Labour organisers had thought Mr Jones might win over 50 per cent of first preference votes.

But he was pegged back by a strong field of independent candidates.

In Birmingham, Labour’s vote was only 40.6 per cent, 10 per cent down on the 2010 General Election.

Mr Jones will assume his duties later this month. He came under pressure during the election campaign to take a salary lower than the £100,000 proposed by the Home Office, but gave no indication that he would do so.

One of his first tasks will be to sort out the West Midlands police budget for next year and produce plans setting out crime-fighting priorities.

He will replace the police authority and will have powers to hire and fire the chief constable and senior civilian staff.

At the end of the first stage of counting Mr Jones managed 42 per cent across the West Midlands and Matt Bennett was in second place with 18 per cent. This meant that the count moved to stage two with the elimination of all other candidates.

Remarkably, former police officer Cath Hannon, who appeared to have a low profile in the run up to the election, polled 30,778 votes in total, just behind Mr Bennett’s 44,130.

Bishop Derek Webley, the former police authority chairman, managed 17,488 votes putting him ahead of Liberal Democrat Ayoub Khan with 15,413.

Ukip’s Bill Etheridge was on 17,563 while former police officer Mike Rumble, an independent, polled 12,882 votes.

The underlying story of the day was the appallingly low turnout for the first Police and Crime Commissioner elections, not just in Birmingham and the West Midlands but across the whole country.

In Birmingham, 12.3 per cent of those registered to vote actually bothered to do so.

But with only about 80 per cent of adults on the electoral register, the true turnout was even lower.

There were an unusually high proportion of spoilt ballot papers, an apparent indication with public disquiet about the entire PCC exercise. Rumours circulated the count in Birmingham that many ballot slips contained “mini-essays” from disgruntled participants complaining about the “waste of money” involved in having the elections.

The results right across the West Midlands revealed a cataclysmic collapse in the Liberal Democrat vote from 19.5 per cent at the 2010 General Election to 6.5 per cent.

In Solihull, Lib Dem Ayoub Khan managed to pick up 3.4 per cent of the police commissioner votes cast compared to 42.9 per cent for the Liberal Democrat candidate in the 2010 General Election. In Walsall, 13 per cent favoured Mr Khan, compared to 30 per cent for the Liberal Democrats in 2010.

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