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Celebrating Independents’ Day

Celebrating Independents’ Day

🕔18.Nov 2012

It would be foolish to make too much of an election where the turnout was a derisory 12.3 per cent.

But one of the unexpected results of polls across England and Wales to choose Police and Crime Commissioners was the success of Independent candidates.

Twelve forces now have non-party political PCCs with powers to set budgets, hire and fire the chief constable and draw up crime fighting priorities. They include West Mercia and Warwickshire locally.

In the West Midlands three Independent candidates between them picked up 25 per cent of the votes cast. The trio – former police officers Cath Hannon and Mike Rumble and Bishop Derek Webley, chairman of the soon to be defunct police authority – did just as well in Birmingham picking up almost 27 per cent of the votes cast.

The strong Independent performance did not prevent Labour’s Bob Jones from winning convincingly to become the West Midlands’ first PCC. But few commentators predicted the very strong showing by Cath Hannon, who when the first preference ballot papers were cast had 30,778 votes putting her in third place behind Tory Matt Bennett, with 44,130, and Mr Jones on 100,130.

Under the rules of the voting system used in the elections, only the first two candidates were able to go through to the next round. Other forms of PR may have been more generous to the Independents, although it is difficult to envisage that Mr Jones’s overwhelming first round lead could have been overtaken.

It is difficult to come to any other conclusion than that the success of Independent candidates throughout the country was driven by public disenchantment with all political parties, as well as a strong feeling that police commissioners should be ‘non-political’.

Indeed, claims that it would be a mistake to “politicise” the police were regularly promoted by chief constables and the Police Federation during the run-up to the elections, and this may have had the desired effect of frightening voters into choosing Independent candidates.

At the very least, the PCC results should send a strong message to the party political establishment: beware of the Independents.

What, if anything, does all of this mean for politics in Birmingham? It came as no surprise at all to discover that support for Liberal Democrat candidate Ayoub Khan slumped to 10 per cent, given the general unpopularity of his party. More surprisingly, Labour’s share of the vote fell by 10 per cent compared to the 2010 General Election.

There were a few furrowed brows among Labour organisers at the PCC count when it became clear that the party’s vote in Birmingham was being pegged back by the Independent candidates, although Mr Jones was always likely to pick up enough support across the wider West Midlands to win easily.

After the declaration, Matt Bennett declared that “this is not an easy time to be a Tory”. Former Birmingham Liberal Democrat councillor Martin Mullaney replied along the lines of “you should try being a Lib Dem then”.

It turned out that the Liberal Democrats had feared a far worse outcome and were fairly satisfied with the 10 per cent figure, which did at least put Mr Khan into double figures.

Paul Tilsley, leader of the city council Liberal Democrat group, commented: “Given the background, believe me the result in Brum was OK, despite the rest of the West Midlands area.” Coun Tilsley also pointed out that the Lib Dem PCC campaign was not backed up in Birmingham by the usual highly-targeted Focus leafleting exercise, which he felt would have increased the vote.

In fact, the Lib Dem share of the vote in Birmingham was down by just four per cent compared to the 2010 local election results and it may be reasonable to assume that core support for the party is unlikely to fall much below 10 per cent.

Even so, the 2014 Birmingham council elections could produce some interesting results if Liberal Democrat popularity does not improve nationally. And with the next General Election not until May 2015, and Nick Clegg seemingly determined to hold on as party leader, it is difficult to envisage any great recovery in Lib Dem fortunes.

Vulnerable seats could include Acocks Green, Moseley & Kings Heath, Perry Barr, Selly Oak, where the Lib Dems are susceptible to Labour attack.

Coun Tilsley is right, however, to stress that the Liberal Democrats fared better in Birmingham than elsewhere in the West Midlands. In Solihull, for example, only 3.4 per cent of those participating in the PCC election voted for Ayoub Khan.

At the 2010 General Election, 42.9 per cent voted for Liberal Democrat candidate Lorely Burt. Ms Burt beat her Conservative opponent with a wafer-thin 175-vote majority. Solihull, you might imagine, is one seat that that Tories will expect to re-take at the 2015 General Election.





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