The elections of Police and Crime Commissioners took place yesterday, Thursday 15th November. The elections are the first of their kind, in which the public elected 41 Police and Crime Commissioners across England and Wales. Oxford students voted for the Police and Crime Commissioner for the Thames Valley area, which is the largest non-metropolitan force in England and Wales. The area is split into 14 districts, covering an area stretching from Windsor to Banbury.
The role of Police and Crime Commissioner is a newly-created position which replaces the previously existing police authorities. The change was suggested in an attempt to tackle a perceived lack of accountability in the police force, and the innovation was supported by all three major parties in their manifestoes during the 2010 general election.
Six candidates battled it out for the Thames Valley area position: Anthony Stansfeld ran on behalf of the Conservative Party, Tim Starkey for Labour, John Howson for the Liberal Democrats and Barry Cooper for UKIP. Patience Tayo Awe and Geoff Howard ran independently.
Unsurprisingly, the contenders for the role were keen to stress the significance of the elections. Barry Cooper, the candidate for UKIP, explained to Cherwell that “I passionately believe that the more democracy the better and fully embrace this exciting opportunity to replace an unelected, unaccountable committee with an elected individual who must answer to the people.”
However, candidates were also keen to defend against concerns that the elections would lead to the infiltration of party politics into the police.
Ms Awe identified her “non-partisan” approach as significant, stating that “Policing transcends party politics. All political party candidates are insulting your intelligence by vying for this non-partisan Police and Crime Commissioner position. Survey result confirmed party politicians cannot be trusted and rightly so. They have made countless u-turns…They are out of touch. This non-partisan Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) initiative by the government could be the most significant democratic reform of policing in our lifetime.”
Tim Starkey, the Labour candidate, appealed to student voters, claiming that his priorities were to tackle drug addiction, improve sexual assault reporting, and to consult students when developing Oxford’s crime plan, especially with regards to safety at night. He pointed to a link between drug use and house burglary in Oxford, an issue of relevance to students.
Sam Hollick, a Green Party councillor in the Holywell ward, disagreed with a potential de-politicization of the police force, arguing that “police priorities are political. Why are none of the candidates talking about illegal tax evasion which costs the UK billions every year? How are they going to deal with institutional racism in the police, which results in disproportionate imprisonment of black people?”
Mr Hollick also voiced his concerns about the predicted lowturnout, stating that it “is a worry, and I’d urge people to go and vote just to keep out […] UKIP.”
Ben Harris, studying PPE at St John’s, mused that, “From my experience, there has been insufficient advertising of the upcoming election. Few people seem to know it is happening and even fewer know exactly what the role entails. This is partly down to apathy – I found the website on my voting card to be very useful, but I don’t know of anyone else who visited it – but there has also been a lack of engagement with the student body.”
Of course, some policies have been directed specifically at students: for example, John Howson stressed that he wants to “ensure student rooms and houses are as safe as possible.” Nevertheless, turnout for the elections was predicted to be poor: an Ipsos MORI poll published in late October found that 38% of those asked hadn’t heard about the elections at all, and only 15% of people said that they were certain to vote.
Laurie Pycroft, a third year undergraduate at Balliol, agreed that apathy would probably play a part in the result, stating “Will bored magistrate A win? Or will it be bored magistrateB? Who knows? Who cares?”
One student sent an email to Corpus JCR, claiming that at 1:20 pm, only 23 of the over 4,000 eligible voters in Holywell ward had voted. The results of the Oxfordshire Police Commissioner elections will be announced today.