What do Suffolk’s PCC results tell us about future elections?

On Thursday voters elected Tory Tim Passmore to be Suffolk’s first Police & Crime Commissioner and a cursory glance at this result will not surprise most commentators. But Friday’s election count was a great deal closer than the Tories expected – one top Tory reacted to the news of Labour topping the first preference vote with an expletive too strong for publication. Despite the fact that Labour are ahead in the opinion polls and there was no other left wing candidate, nobody, including the Labour candidate, expected the election to be this close.

The immediate assumption by many Tories was that there must have been a substantial UKIP vote, much of which would likely come from disaffected Tories using the supplementary vote system to give the Tories a scare without (many will have thought) risking a Labour victory. Indeed UKIP achieved more than a third of the Tories first preference votes. Yet those who think all those UKIP voters would automatically split for the Tories need to think again; UKIP’s eleven thousand first preference votes, combined with the Independent’s fourteen thousand first preference votes, only resulted in 7,141 extra Tory votes. Some 5,038 second preference votes went to Jane Basham, the Labour candidate.

What will concern the main two parties is the fact that, where people voted for an independent or UKIP, they were more likely to give their second preference vote to the other minor candidate than to give it to either the of the main two parties; 9,284 of their second preference votes were not for either of the Tories or Labour.

Quite why the main parties and the media are surprised by the results is a mystery. Overwhelmingly pollsters told them that the general public thought that former police officers or those with experience of policing would be the best person for the job. Indeed one of the most popular questions we were sent when we asked for questions to put to the candidates was about how much experience they have in policing. This is undoubtedly why Labour’s Jane Basham played up her “senior role with the police” as an HR manager. You have to wonder if former top Ipswich copper Tim Beech hadn’t withdrawn from Labour’s selection process they might have won this election.

The voting public tend to know what outcome they want when they cast their vote. In European Parliamentary elections the anti EU parties tend to do vastly better than in Westminster elections. Independents tend to do better in local elections. Now it seems that independents, especially those with experience of policing, do better in Police & Crime elections. This is hardly a surprise; if we had elected hospital bosses, doctors would probably top the poll, if we had an elected fire authority you’d probably find former firefighters topping the polls. People like candidates with experience of the authority they are going to be running.

There was also a substantial number of spoiled votes deliberately spoiled as a way of recording an active abstention. Unsurprisingly the vast majority of those who have taken to twitter to promote their actions of spoiling the ballot paper were Liberal Democrats, who failed to raise the £5000 needed to put forward a candidate and like to pretend they didn’t disenfranchise their voters. It is ironic that the Labour candidate, whose policy positions were more likely to appeal to Lib Dem voters, might have beaten the Tories if a couple of thousand Lib Dem voters had turned out to vote for a Lib Dem candidate, offering her their second preference votes. As we predicted, the Lib Dem decision to sit this one out has almost ensured the victory of a Tory who believes in the death penalty and doesn’t believe in the Human Rights Act.

Looking forward, how can we relate these results to future County Council elections in May? Well we can’t, exactly, because there were no Lib Dem votes to be had and they will be standing in May. Labour in Ipswich will be feeling very confident having achieved over 51% of the votes cast. Yet the Tories still saw a substantial number of votes, and those votes will be concentrated in some areas. In a General Election the Tories can easily expect more than four thousand Tories out of Bixley ward and Castle Hill wards on their own. Of course the fact that only 17 voters bothered to vote in the polling station “saved” by the Tories earlier this year will be embarrassing for the Tory Borough group.

Those attempting to make predictions in May based on Thursday’s poll are fooling themselves if they think they can get any meaningful result. This was an election in which one of the three main parties didn’t bother to put up a candidate. It was on a different electoral system, and the public have shown themselves to be adept at voting differently in different elections on different systems.

Thursday was a good day for Labour; probably because Jane Basham campaigned from the centre rather than from the far left like the Labour candidate here in Ipswich. It was a good day for the Tories, who won the election and took overall control of Waveney District Council by winning a by election from Labour. It was a good day for the Green Party who won a by election in central Bury St Edmunds. It was a good day for UKIP, who garnered 11,000 votes despite barely having any campaigning infrastructure. It was a bad day for the Lib Dems, who allowed themselves to be put in a position where they can be called a fringe party once again. And it was a bad day for the Home Office, widely blamed for problems in releasing information, for the low turnout, for the lack of information and, probably, for the foggy weather as well.

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4 Responses

  1. [...] Ipswich Spy makes an important point, [...]

  2. [...] Ipswich Spy has a taste in dodgy statistics.  Consider this: [...]

  3. In a blog post on Bridge Ward News James Spencer accuses us of using dodgy statistics. Unfortunately his calculations are incorrect.

    The two candidates eliminated after the first preference votes were counted had 25396 votes between them.

    Of these, 12179 expressed a preference for either of the two main parties.

    A further 3452 did not express a second preference.

    481 were void for uncertainty.

    This leaves 9284 votes which voted for a minor candidate as first preference and for the other minor candidate as a second preference.

    Spencer claims that these figures are not available online. Actually they are. They are on the Suffolk Police Area Returning Officer’s website at http://www.suffolkparo.org.uk. Maybe Spencer just isn’t as good at his research as he used to be.

    Spencer then makes a series of abstractions from the figures based on assumption after assumption to prove his point. He twists the statistics far beyond the point at which they can elicit any further information.

    Spencer appears to cling to the idea that UKIP voters are actually pissed off Tory voters who would return in droves to the Tory party if only the Tories would shift to the right. The fact that the UKIP candidate, Bill Mountford, is a former Labour committee member from Waveney does nothing to dent that argument which we hear from a huge number of Tories but a decreasing number of UKIP voters.

    The Tories need to accept that the UKIP are a separate political party, not a pressure group on the outskirts of the Tory Party. They are in a similar position to Labour after the split with the SDP – absolutely convinced that they will come back into the fold if only the party moved slightly to the right.

    Yet today the Liberal Democrats are in government with the Tories. Will we see the day when UKIP prop up a Labour Government in a coalition? Probably not; unlike the SDP, UKIP don’t get close to winning a Parliamentary seat yet. The latest poll puts them on 7% of the vote, yet that is spread thinly across the country. It is, however, easily enough to prevent Ben Gummer from being returned to Westminster in 2015 without Mr Ellesmere having to lift a finger.

    The Tories need to take UKIP seriously as a threat. These are not voters who will definitely be counted on when they are needed. They are people from all parties and none who have decided that they want to support what is clearly the fourth party of English politics.

    IS/BR

    • UKIP remain, however, extremely eccentric.

      They are more than just ordinarily right-wing with views on ‘multiculturalism’ which are perhaps best called as appealing to a similar audience to the BNP.

      Anybody attending the meeting in the Ipswich Town Hall on the referendum about the Alernative Vote system (which they backed) could see how odd they are – even by my standards!.

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