I've seen a huge number of theories on this, but given some politicians' disdain for actually doing research and finding things out
, I suspect we'll never have a definitive answer. After all, it's much easier to pontificate from assumptions than do research... With that caveat in mind, I'd like to take a look at some of the theories.1, Nobody votes in winter elections
Turnout in winter elections does tend to be depressed by 5 or 6 percent. This may be a factor, but it's clearly not the full explanation when in some places turnout didn't even hit 10 percent.2, There was a lack of information about the elections
There was no freepost mailshot. The London-based national media were totally apathetic about reporting that the elections were happening (unlike the bloody London mayor, which the rest of us had to suffer ad nauseam). The government didn't push the elections either. The Choose My PCC website was abysmal, and the helpline was worse than useless. This all gave the electorate the impression that nobody could be bothered. Again, I think this was a factor, but not the full explanation.3, There was a lack of meaningful choice
Even if you get over the hurdles of lack of information, you discover that most of the candidates were standing on identical platforms. More bobbies on the beat, less anti-social behaviour, etc. Unless you have strong ideological political convictions (which is not very many people these days) from which you could extrapolate the values of the candidate (because very few made overtly political statements) how the hell were you meant to choose between them? And if there's no meaningful choice, people won't bother to vote
- I personally think this is a large part of the decline in turnouts in other elections too.4, People object to the idea of a politician running the police
This may be true, although it shows ill-informedness about how the police were run before. Again, I think the media must take some share of the blame for this. Pretty much all of the reports I have seen have described the PCCs as replacing the Police Authority - which is something of a misconception
- and have not described how the existing police authorities were comprised of local councillors anyway so were already politicised. The only thing that has really changed here is the name of the police authority - they are now police and crime panels - and the fact that the chair of the authority has been renamed commissioner and is now directly elected rather than indirectly.5, People who object to the idea of elected police commissioners had no way to register their disdain other than to stay away
Although there have been a larger number of spoilt ballots
this time, people are still unaware of the power of a spoilt ballot, and so tried to send a message by not voting. Unfortunately, we all know that politicians and the media will paint this as "voter apathy" and people "not bothering". This will increase feelings of disenfranchisement and frustration among the electorate. At some point this is going to boil over, but clearly this election wasn't it.
If you DO object to the very idea of elected police and crime commissioners, by the way, I recommend either signing Unlock Democracy's open letter to Theresa May
or signing the epetition here
, or both.6, People are just generally pissed off with politicians, political media, and elections
I, personally, think this is the nub of it. And because
people are just generally pissed off with politicians, political media, and elections this feeds into the perception that there is a lack of meaningful choice - if all politicians are the same and they are all venal scumsucking money-grubbing bastards, why bother to try to choose between them? It won't make any difference.
The causes of this are many and complex, but a large part of it is the electoral system which forces there two be two big broad church parties of disparate people BEFORE an election rather than coalitions forming after; a large part of it is the media who love to take politicians down and misrepresent them for sensationalist reasons; some of it is a lack of education on politics and its processes; and some of it is the dishonesty of politicians in not admitting that actually, there is very little difference between any of the main parties precisely due to the above effects.
There needs to be a sea change in politics in this country. People like Loz Kaye and even the idiot Farage are doing their best to bring that about peacefully, but powerful forces are ranged against them. The Labour and Conservative parties really don't want to see it happen because it will mean the end of their century-old strangehold on power, which is why all of the opprobrium for unpopular government decisions has been aimed by them at the Lib Dems. The dead tree media don't want to see it happen because pluralist politics is far harder to report than red/blue blue/red spats, which is why all of the opprobrium for unpopular government decisions has been aimed by THEM at the Lib Dems.
But I think it's going to happen. Whether or not it happens peacefully depends on exactly how hard the establishment resists, but we've already seen riots, record low turnout in elections, and we're seeing the demonisation and othering of everyone from the disabled to those who dare to voice dissent on twitter. It takes a lot to make British people rouse from their "mustn't grumble" natural state and revolt, but we're seeing signs of it happening. Our political class (myself included) needs to pay attention to this and do something about it, before the entire edifice gets burned.