The election season is well underway in Cambridge now, with less than four weeks until voters go to the polls. Party activists, myself included, are tramping the streets of the city, stuffing leaflets into sometimes-reluctant letterboxes, and knocking on doors to talk to the (almost entirely) charming and delightful Cambridge electorate. But as well as the annual elections for local councillors that we’re so used to, there is another election taking place on 5th May – for only the second time, voters will be choosing a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Cambridgeshire.
The first PCC elections were held in 2012, and attracted a pretty derisory turnout in Cambridgeshire of just 15.3%. This wasn’t helped by the vote being held in November, and with no other elections taking place on the same day. There were seven candidates standing, and the result was a fairly comfortable victory for the Conservative candidate, Graham Bright. Here are the 2012 results:
Now, as Labour activists are extremely keen to point out, the voting system used for the PCC elections is the Supplementary Vote (SV). This means that as well as putting an X by the name of their preferred candidate in the usual way, voters can also place a second X by the name of their second-choice candidate. Here’s what the ballot paper looks like:
If no candidate gets more than half the first choice vote, then the top two candidates go forward to a second round. All the other candidates are eliminated, and their second choice votes are added to the totals for the top two candidates. Here’s how that worked in 2012:
The top two candidates were Conservative Graham Bright, on 26.8%, and Labour’s Ed Murphy, on 19.8%. All the other candidates were eliminated, and the second choice votes were counted. This added another 8.9% for Graham Bright, and 8.5% for Ed Murphy:
It’s notable, however, that most of the second choice votes didn’t transfer to either of the top two candidates. These voters either didn’t cast a second choice vote, or they cast it for a candidate who didn’t end up in the top two.
So much for 2012. How does the contest look in 2016? Nominations closed on Thursday, and this time we have only four candidates standing:
- Jason Ablewhite, Conservative, leader of Huntingdonshire District Council leader and chairman of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough police and crime panel.
- Dave Baigent, Labour, Cambridge City Councillor for Romsey and former firefighter.
- Nick Clarke, UKIP, former leader of Cambridgeshire County Council.
- Rupert Moss-Eccardt, Lib Dem, former Cambridgeshire County Councillor for Arbury
The incumbent, Graham Bright, decided not to seek re-election this time. Labour’s previous candidate, Ed Murphy, did seek the Labour nomination again, but was defeated by Dave Baigent in a closely-fought contest.
So what are the prospects for the four candidates this time? They all face a pretty daunting challenge in getting their message across to the voters – the PCC area covers the same territory as seven Parliamentary constituencies, with an electorate of around 600,000. Unlike elections for MPs and MEPs, there is no “freepost”, a publicly-funded leaflet delivery to help PCC candidates communicate with the voters. Polling cards do give a website address – www.choosemypcc.org.uk – where voters can find more information about the candidates, but it seems unlikely that many voters will bother to visit it before heading to the polling station. I would estimate that at the moment around 98 out of 100 Cambridgeshire voters have no idea who their PCC candidates are. By the end of the campaign that figure might be down to 95, but a great many voters are likely to cast their PCC votes largely on the basis of party preference – and this can only favour the Conservative candidate. Here are the total votes cast in the 2015 General Election in the seven constituencies that make up the PCC area:
As you can see, the Conservatives had a substantial lead across the PCC area at the General Election. If PCC votes follow this pattern, then the Conservative candidate should be substantially ahead on the first choice vote – though not quite enough to win outright. This is the reason that Labour activists are so keen to emphasise the second choice vote – they hope that their candidate can get enough second votes from voters supporting other parties to overhaul the likely Conservative lead. However, the results from 2012 suggest that many voters don’t cast their second vote in a way that counts in the second round. Similarly, UKIP’s Nick Clarke will be hoping to snatch second place ahead of Labour, and then benefit from second-choice votes to overhaul Conservative Jason Ablewhite. Lib Dem Rupert Moss-Eccardt will also be hoping for second-choice transfers – results from other SV elections show the Lib Dems often do well in second-choice votes, but struggle to get enough first-choice votes to make it into the final two. Overall, a fairly comfortable Conservative victory seems the most likely outcome, but other candidates will be working hard up to polling day to make their case to voters. There is one aspect of the PCC vote that we can be pretty confident about – with local elections on the same day, the turnout should be a good deal higher than 2012’s 15.3% – but still probably only around 30%. However it’s hard to tell what difference this will make to the outcome.
If you aren’t yet registered to vote, you’ve got until 18 April – you can register online via www.aboutmyvote.co.uk. If you can’t get to the polling stations on May 5th, you can arrange to vote by post here.