Saturday, 17 November 2012

Beware Who You Don’t Vote For

On Thursday I wrote a blog post lamenting the way in which the elections for Policing and Crime Commissioners had been handled. In that post I predicted that in Surrey, a strongly Conservative county – (all the MPs in Surrey are currently Conservatives), the Conservative candidate Julie Iles would ‘almost certainly win’.

I was completely wrong.

But before I go into that, a relevant anecdote:

A few weeks ago I attended a hustings at a hall in the village of Chobham. All the Police and Crime Commissioner candidates were in attendance, one from each of the main parties (Con, Lab, LibDem and UKIP) and two independents.

One independent, Kevin Hurley, made a particular impression. Hurley started his speech by explaining that he had applied to be the Conservative candidate but had been rejected. It seemed a strange start to his speech - it seemed as though his starting point for setting out his credentials for ‘selection’ by the group of 100 or so people attending the hustings was to explain that he had already been rejected by another group..

I could only assume that Hurley wanted to establish himself as having essentially Conservative values in a broadly Conservative area and wasn’t too concerned about doing it in such a way that might also highlight a previous rejection.

Hurley then went on to explain his background as an experienced senior Police officer and to expound his central theme of ‘zero-tolerance’ policing.

Everything he said was highly populist – zero tolerance against ‘bullies’ and ‘yobs’ and their anti-social behaviour, burglars and drug-dealers. All quite sensible sounding stuff but it seemed to lack depth and there also seemed to be an excessively authoritarian and quite aggressive thread running throughout everything he said.

My concern was first alerted when he started using words like ‘yob’ – he was using broad brush-strokes to describe one sector of society. In an effort to appear tough and uncompromising he also sounded indiscriminate – quite a worrying trait for someone bidding to be in charge of an organisation within which power can so easily and damagingly be abused.

While I was listening to Hurley and the other candidates speak, I looked around the room at the rest of audience. Most of the attendees were either in their late 50s or 60’s or in their retirement years. Except myself, and two other guys at the opposite side of the hall who, I would guess were in their 30s. They looked slightly out of place.

One of them asked a question about how the Police should deal with unco-operative young people. It was a slightly confusing question because the questioner didn’t seem to want to give any specifics about the sort of situation he was describing. When queried he simply opined that young people would often just refuse to co-operate with police. The candidates all found it quite difficult to address the question.

Except, such uncertainties didn’t hold Hurley back. He turned to the questioner and in extremely aggressive style said something like ‘If you weren’t cooperating with me, I would have you on the ground, arms behind your back and in cuffs’.

There was a hushed silence as the gathered audience took in what he had said. It just sounded so aggressive, heavy handed and brutal.

I remember clearly thinking what a good thing it was that Hurley didn’t stand a chance. The guy sitting next to me murmured something about him being a ‘little Nazi’. It was an understandable reaction.

Later, the guy next to me also said ‘you could pin a blue rosette on a Donkey round here and they would get elected’ it reminded me of a story about a Conservative MP in another part of Surrey who was selected as a candidate and then unwisely said the same thing. He was nevertheless elected.

And that assumption, I guess, is why so many of us in Surrey didn’t bother voting and why on Thursday, Kevin Hurley was elected as Surrey’s Police and Crime Commissioner.

In fact, Julie Iles (the Conservative Candidate) did, by a small margin, win the most votes. But the voting system used took into account second preference votes if no candidate won more than 50% of the first preference votes. (very similar to the system that the Liberal Democrats tried and failed to bring-in for General Elections in the recent referendum).

Hurley won because more people selected him as their second preference (i.e. if their preferred candidate didn’t win) than Julie Iles – a confusing and bizarre electoral system that gives the same weight to people’s preferred candidate vote as it does to their second choice..

Only 15.7% of the eligible population voted in this election. Hurley was voted for (first preference) by only 4.1% of the electorate and won.

It’s a lesson on the dangers of voter apathy.

I hope the impression that Hurley gave me and others at the hustings was wrong. I hope that in wanting to appear tough and uncompromising against criminal activity he mistakenly appeared heavy-handed, aggressive and indiscriminate.

I await evidence before making a full judgement on Hurley. I hope he does too before implementing what he calls ‘forceful policing’ on others.


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