One defining moment of the CREST Advisory PCC Future event this week was when one of the assembled experts, having been asked to estimate the turnout in November, gave a figure but then added that it didn’t matter.
Cue a simultaneous expression of shock and disagreement from the vast majority of the PCC-candidate dominated audience, only for other experts to chime in with support for this notion with reference to a special argument, of which more later.
The moment showed an audience fully engaged with the speakers, who are all living these elections together, partly through outlets such as this site. It held a special resonance for me, as I had field-tested a similar point a few weeks earlier at a Westminster Briefing about Community Safety and PCCs. When I was asked about turnout then I quoted Ian Chisnall’s comment on this site that any PCC would have a ‘greater personal mandate than the PM, Home Sec and Policing Minister combined‘. On that occasion most of the audience were unmoved, with one exception who went into detail of how little he liked the argument. But this week I had my vindication – the experts were agreeing with me (and Ian).
I think turnout could be poor. It could be anywhere from 15% at a guess up to around 40%. Who really knows? For most PCC candidates the turnout that matters most is the turnout of their own supporters. Anything beyond that is a bonus. There will be no-one who wins on 16 November refusing to take the job because they did not get enough support.
The PCC, due to the Supplementary Vote system, will have essentially the backing of a majority of the electorate who voted. It may be a small percentage, but it will still be a big number, and a bigger number than any Councillor or MP they run up against. James O’Shaughnessy, former Director of Policy at 10 Downing Street, called it a mandate MPs would dream of.
Who’s to say how other people who didn’t vote would have voted? The person who wins had a majority. Sure, they would feel better with a big turnout, but they are going to be feeling pretty good even if they don’t have one. They will have been selected by a process that produces more personal support than most other elections, and more than any police authority or Chief Constable has ever had. They will have office. They will have powers and responsibilities. They will have work to do, and the vaguaries of turnout will be matters for political anoraks.