This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Opting out

As was widely reported a couple of weeks ago Lord Blair declared that people should not vote in the coming election. According to the BBC report "he told the Sky News Murnaghan programme the only way to stop the proposal was to refuse to take part in the elections".

I was out campaigning on the streets of Oxford this morning with Tim Starkey, Cllr John Tanner and Pete Willsman. As we handed out leaflets we received the usual range of responses from people perceiving us as invisible to the naked eye to others who proudly announced they had already voted Labour in their postal ballot. I think we handed out about 400 - 500 leaflets to passers by in the 3 hours or so we were there.

However one woman surprised me: she poured on us equal & large quantities of vitriol and scorn from her very lofty position in the Green Party. She maintained this was a terrible model of governance which was politicising something that should not be politicised and by taking part, we were colluding in this horrific enterprise.

Up to a point, of course, I agree with her wholeheartedly. This blog post would become tedious were I to list all the failings of this new governance model and the way in which the Home Office has managed the electoral process. (The fact that several people snatched the leaflet from our hands with words something like "at last some information!" was testament to this.)

But of course where I disagree with her is judgement that to be engaged with this electoral process is something akin to fascism. I know there are many people who are opting out, along with Lord Blair, for linked and other reasons.

But is opting out.... opting out?

Here are some facts and predictions:
  • These elections will go ahead and some people will vote. 
  • This time next week (barring some electoral quirk), the country will have 41 PCCs
  • These PCCs will be setting the plans and council tax precept in the weeks that follow
  • Moreover, where there are vacancies, some of these PCCs will be appointing new Chief Constables shortly as well
  • Turnout will be extraordinarily low which means that there might be surprise results
  • However even if the turnout is as low as 10% or less, the elections will be still be legal
  • Low turnout will be blamed on the November schedule and I fully expect the Lib Dems to be blamed for that.
  • Higher than usual proportions of spoilt ballot papers will be blamed on the voting system
In other words: not voting or spoiling ballot papers will not make one jot of difference except where it matters most: the results. Not voting, will favour the candidates who have managed to persuade their supporters to come out and vote. In most places this will be the Tories because I suspect many of them will dutifully go out and vote because it was their policy in the first place.

So not voting or spoiling your ballot paper will allow you to remain disgruntled / in profound disagreement / sanctimonious / apart / etc. (delete as applicable) but your 'non vote' will be, in effect, a vote for a party or individual (or both) that you entirely disagree with. That person may well do things in the future as PCC that you will have no real justification to criticise since you did not do the one small thing you could to prevent them gaining power.

All it will take for a crumby and damaging PCC to be elected would be for good people to do nothing..

And so, I have voted and I have been campaigning in various ways (this blog is one of those ways) to a) increase people's understanding of this new role and b) persuade people to vote Labour in the elections on Thursday. Through this I hope to make a terrible model of governance a little less terrible by helping make sure good people are elected and that everyone knows from the outset, the problems with the model. For me, this is the basis of changing the model when Labour are back in power. 

By all means, do exercise your 'right' not to vote or spoil your ballot paper (a 'right' that many millions in the world would love to have), if you are so inclined. But please do not think of this as a revolutionary act or protest that will heard. In my view, it is not, and may well benefit the people you least want to be benefited. 


  1. Thanks for the much needed reminder that inaction isn't ever a solution - I do at least have the prospect of two candidates who would do a good job.

    I needed ever you inspire.


  2. I had decided to spoil my ballot. I'd been wavering during the course of the day.

    Your tossing about of words like "sanctimoniousness", the putting of 'right' in quote marks and the 'people-starving-in-Africa-would-love-your-dinner' non-argument means I have found new resolve to not be part of this circus.

    Thank you for making up my mind. Wihtdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy.

    1. "Wihtdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy" - true. However the result is the same.

  3. I've been agonising over whether to not vote, vote and spoil, or vote all day. In my area I have the choice of a mixture of idiots (the Tory candidate - very poor quality) and non-entities I know nothing about. How do I discriminate in this?

    I am astonished at the poor quality of candidates the parties have put forward. People I would not trust such a position to.

    To have a choice I need better information on those candidates I know little about beyond a over simplified 10 point manifesto each one seems to choose, and I need better candidates, otherwise all I can do is abstain.

    And what I *really* want to say with my vote is, I don't want the police politicised, and I don't think the country needs another bunch of fulltime politicians.

    Over this bunch of candidates, give me an unelected backroom beaureaucrat appointed on merit anyday.

    1. Naturally, I cannot speak for all candidates in every one of the 41 areas. On balance, with a couple of exceptions, I would say that the candidates in Thames Valley have put up a fair bit of information about themselves, their credentials and their policies.

      Also something of the order of 10 (or more) hustings were held in this area in most localities (although I am sad than Milton Keynes did not host one). On that basis there were opportunities for the voting public to grill the candidates, and see them in action. I do not know what happened in your area.

      But... these elections are anything but local and the challenge facing all the Thames Valley candidates was to get themselves known across 21 parliamentary constituencies - an impossible task in my opinion.

      And as I say above, and have on many other occasions, this is a seriously duff & dangerous governance model and I sincerely hope that the future Labour government will consign it to history as soon as possible.