Sorry, Police Commissioner: my wife spoiled her ballot paper


An open letter to Ms Vera Baird, the newly elected Police & Crime Commissioner for Northumbria

Dear Ms Baird,

Congratulations on your re-election. My wife and I were among those who voted, I on my part relishing not only the opportunity to put in place a barrister like yourself, with experience of government, but rather more gleefully the chance to vote Labour up here in the northernmost tip of England – Godzone, we call it – and stand a good chance of winning!

Sadly, my Spouse the Socialist spoiled her ballot paper, just as she did in the original contest when first you were elected. In 2012 it was her protest at being asked to vote for a system of police governance which she felt (and still feels) is unnecessary; this time she spoiled her paper in protest at the total lack of information, even down to the candidates’ identities.

No posted or hand-delivered information, nothing by way of announcements by parish or county council reached our ears. No statements from the competing candidates, no summary of your achievements and/or aims for the future came our way. Had we not heard a brief mention on Radio Four’s Today programme on the morning of the vote we would not have remembered to do our democratic duty, either.

Do not console or congratulate yourselves, you politicians, in the belief that the low turnout – 31 per cent across a giant police authority region stretching from Teesside to the Scottish border – was at least an improvement on the 16 per cent which voted in 2012. In my county, rural Northumberland where the police vote was the ONLY reason for turning out to vote, only 21 per cent bothered to cast a vote for anyone because of, I would contend, the almost total lack of publicity surrounding the election and any reiteration of the very reasons for the existence of a Police and Crime Commissioner.

I know that central government’s much criticised £2million spend on the original vote was drastically cut to a few thousand pounds this year. Even so, a simple handbill offering each candidate equal space plus picture to state his or her case could have been distributed via parish council noticeboards or as a pickup at doctors’ surgeries, libraries and even through willing shops, pubs and supermarkets.  polling stationThere is a sickness in this country which is far from confined to Police Commissioner elections but infects and threatens our democracy, from the tiniest village hall committee election through parish, town and county council polls all the way up to parliamentary elections and referendums: so-called ‘Voter Apathy’ is misnamed because the blame lies not with the electorate but with the powers that (would) be.  Look at the unmitigated and unforgivable cockup in the north London borough of Barnet, that jewel in the Conservative crown, where hundreds of early morning voters – among them the chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, and his wife, Valerie – were turned away after 155 polling stations received incomplete voting registers.

The council, after initially suggesting that would-be voters in the London mayoral election could ‘come back and vote later’ – a suggestion that provoked fury and ridicule in equal measure – eventually put in place measures to allow those who had been barred an emergency proxy vote. And who is in charge of such vital democratic functions as proxy and postal voting in privatisation-loving Barnet? A company called Capita; what encouragement is there to participate when even democracy is put in the hands of an organisation with profit as its core activity?

Further down the chain, at village level, it is difficult to find a parish council in Northumbria that even bothers to hold elections, choosing instead to ‘invite, appoint or co-opt’ the latest respectable-looking middle class incomer on the grounds that ‘we can’t afford an election and no one else wants to do the job, anyway’. Little wonder that apathy is rife and democracy is dying.

And then we are subject to an almost secret PCC election, the object of which few understand and the date of which even fewer are aware. Truly, Ms Baird, I despair. Given the current gulf in trust between police and public it seems to me vital that a barrister with your experience in government is excellently placed to work with responsible law officers to keep our streets and villages safe.

For that reason, I am sharing this open letter to you with some thousands of readers of my columns displayed at Should you care to respond I will happily make the same website available to you for reply.

You may choose to believe that a PCC election resulting in an endorsement by more than half of the pathetically small total turnout is some sort of satisfactory conclusion, despite the worryingly high proportion of more than 8,000 (possibly deliberately) spoiled ballot papers. I see trouble brewing.

When participation in democracy dips to the levels we routinely see today then rejecting the democratic way will breed dissent and ugly demonstrations.

And that becomes a police matter, Ms Police and Crime Commissioner. . .




  1. Yes I did vote. I was initially perplexed when driving past the polling station to see it. Then my brain started chugging into gear and I wondered about the PCC election. When I got back home, I went through all the “back post” and found the card confirming that what was the vote was about. What puzzled me was that I had not had one leaflet through the door. I do not expect (or want) a personal visit, but I found it absolutely extraordinary that no candidates bothered to send their views/backgrounds/photos in support of their bid. Your article states that the funding was cut. I know nothing about this. If you are correct, then this is not democracy, in my view, although others may disagree. Personally I do not believe in or support these Commissioners as they seem to be paid a lot of money to do what was being done before. Why bother having an election? How can you vote sensibly when you do not know what each candidate supports? This is the first time I have ever had to vote for someone not knowing anything about them or their intentions. A farce. You may be happy with the result Mr Banks but I think it is disgraceful. In future, I will follow the excellent example set by your very sensible wife and destroy my ballot paper. Thanks for the interesting article. Glad there is still a life after “The Journal”!!

  2. No, I didn’t. For the simple reason that I and the millions of others in London, policed by by far the largest police force, the Met, have no opportunity to do so. We vote for a Mayor (ALL coverage dedicated to housing, transport, business, etc with policing getting little if any mention) & the Mayor then does PCC job as a hobby, appointing some random Deputy Mayor For Policing (who they have no obligation to identify beforehand) to effectively do the job. It is a MAJOR democratic deficit in London & yet another fault with May’s fault-ridden & utterly unconstitutional PCC idea…

  3. Spoiled my PCC ballot paper deliberately. Vera Baird was always going to have a landslide, despite basically being a failed MP. There were no independents. It annoys me that local policing is subject to the same party politics as everything else – I was hoping they were a chance for some proper experts to come in and run forces properly, but no.

  4. Hear, hear! I spoiled my paper, because I felt I had to vote, but I had received no information about any of the candidates, who all seemed to be a bunch of failed (or never made it) politicians, knowing damn all about policing, better at sound bites than making our streets safer.

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