The Police and Crime Commissioner elections are supposed to be an extension of democracy, giving voters the chance to chuck out folk they reckon are not governing the police sufficiently well. The same people (Daniel Hannan MEP and Douglas Carswell MP) who pushed for this reform also pushed for other extensions of democracy such as open primary elections. Safe seats are a reality, but anti-democratic they argue, because the real choice is made by a party selectorate rather than by real voters wherever the locals are wont to say “they would vote for a donkey round here, if it was wearing a red/blue rosette”.
In the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners it is unlikely there will be any real primaries. A real primary is a bit like a real election, with a vote for every voter, and almost the same cost to engage the voters in the decision as to who becomes the party candidate. No-one is rushing to bear that cost – not the parties, not the government, no-one.
But there is another way it could happen, and it wouldn’t cost a penny.
The Police and Crime Commissioner election will be decided by something called the Supplementary Vote. In this system you put the number ‘1’ next to your favourite candidate, and the number ‘2’ next to your next preference. You don’t go beyond no ‘2’. The count then has 2 rounds. The 2 candidates who get the most ‘1’s go through to the second round. All the other votes for other candidates are then reallocated depending on how the second preferences are distributed.
It is designed to create an absolute majority for the winning candidate and, as such, moves the winning post near enough to 50% to exclude most extremist parties from ever having a chance of winning. In practice it doesn’t always get to 50% because not everyone expresses a second preference, or their second preference doesn’t make it through to the final round.
However, it also has a potential use in those safe seats that we are so worried about. We assume that parties will only ever choose one candidate in an election where only one person can win. But what if they didn’t? What if a party, dominant in a particular seat, was bold enough to put two choices before the electorate. What if you could not just choose a Conservative, but had a choice between two different Conservatives. Sure the party’s vote would be split on the first round, but it could reunite in round 2 as long as one of the candidates comes at least second – and that is most likely in the sorts of seats we are considering.
In fact, if this was not a unilateral action, and the parties co-operated in the way that they co-operated on election debates, it need not be limited to the safest of seats, because the main election could function as a basic primary for the main parties, and one of them would likely end up with more votes and win.
Will the parties be so radical? Why would they give up their right to have the final say on their own candidates?
I don’t think they will do it, but any party that did would be inviting the public into its decision making in a meaningful and high-profile way, and that very fact could give it an advantage and a level of public engagement that might make the difference as to whether it has a successful candidate in this election. So if one party did it, it would create pressure on the others, and democracy could suddenly be very interesting again.
I’m not listing all the problems with this idea – but I’m sure you can do it for me in the comments!