A fortnight ago Mervyn Barrett withdrew from the Lincolnshire PCC election in a blaze of publicity that continues to burn bright, and in the last week Lee Barron attempted to withdraw from the Northamptonshire race with a fair amount of attention that will follow him where ever he goes. There has been another withdrawal however, not greatly celebrated in the media, that of Charles Swabey in Derbyshire, who got all the way to being nominated, only to withdraw a few days later. For what reason? He didn't want to split 'the Independent vote'.
There's a curious concept. Independents are supposed to be, well, independent, yet apparently they can also stick together. In some places in local government whole swathes of Independents band together to form majorities in a Council, and some suggest they act exactly like political parties but under a different brand. But of course one cannot brand all Independents this way, because they are, er, independent.
If there is a tantalising aspect to the PCC election surely it is the question of whether voters who appear to disapprove of political parties involvement in policing will actually in the end of the day vote for Independents instead. Depending on how you count them there are around 55 people who have parted with £5,000 of someone's hard earned cash because they think they may see it again by getting over 5% of the vote, and may even win.
But will they?
In my view, even if there were a surge of support for Independents, most of them would not win for precisely the reason that Mr Swabey chose to withdraw. One Independent might attract some interest, but more than one would split that interest, and more than two in an election where people only get to vote twice would have been fatal to it.
Where there are two Independents people may think that it's OK, as they can use their supplementary vote to switch from one to the other, but that only happens where one of them gets into the top two in the first round. There are no bronze medals in the PCC elections.
So, while I remain to be convinced that the anti-politics feeling will really crystalise into votes for Independents who people do not actually know, here is my list of areas where I think Independents will struggle the hardest, because there are too many of them (number of Independents in parentheses):-
Devon and Cornwall (6)
Hampshire (2ish) – Don Jerrard is standing under the 'Justice and Anti-Corruption' banner)
North Wales (2)
South Wales (2)
Surrey (2ish) – Kevin Hurley describes himself as “Zero Tolerance Policing ex Chief”
Thames Valley (2)
West Midlands (3)
So in 34 of 41 areas there are Independents standing, but in 15 of them there are so many that they threaten the possibility of Independent success. That makes 19 areas where a powerful surge to the Independents could pay off, but 7 where there is no Independent option, and 15 that share 36 Independent candidates. If this is a shockingly good election for Independents there remain 22 areas where party candidates have an edge, i.e. most of the areas.
There is no allowance here for the force of their personality, the effectiveness of their networks, or the impact of their campaigns. For some this may not be electoral suicide, but it sure looks like the first evidence of lemmings in Devon and Cornwall, and the failure of so many Independents even on a good day could hit the numbers next time round.