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Record low turnout as region selects first police and crime commissioners
THE Prime Minister last night insisted the newly elected police and crime commissioners (PCC) did have a mandate - despite widespread public apathy prompting record low turnouts.
In the North-East and North Yorkshire, just 15.2 per cent of voters took part in the poll, with Northumbria's successful candidate, Vera Baird, accusing the Government of showing “bungling incompetence” over the election.
Labour’s Ron Hogg, who was selected as Durham’s PCC, said the poor turn-out reflected "anger on the doorstep" during the election campaign.
Speaking after taking 51.6 per cent of first preference votes ahead of nearest rival Kingsley Smith, Mr Hogg said: "There are reasons why the turnout was so low - it was a first-time election, there was poor publicity around the process and the role and the fact that it was in November didn’t help.
"There has also been a lot of anger on the doorstep from people saying they don’t know what the role is.
"There is now a real challenge for political parties to re-engage with communities."
Middlesbrough Labour councillor Barry Coppinger will be Cleveland's first PCC.
The trade union official, who has served on Cleveland Police Authority, won in every area of Cleveland with 31,346 first and second preference votes.
Conservative councillor Ken Lupton, former leader of Stockton Borough Council, came second with independent Sultan Alam, a former Cleveland police officer who spent 17 years clearing his name after being falsely convicted, third.
After the result, Coun Coppinger insisted he had a mandate to lead the force.
“We’re disappointed more people didn’t vote and I will work to raise the profile of the role.”
Cleveland Police has been rocked by on-going investigations of alleged corruption at the highest level.
But the new commissioner defended the force and denied the new role was a poisoned chalice.
He said: “There’s difficulties, no doubt about that, but Cleveland Police still has a great record dealing with crime and protecting the public.
“My number one priority is to secure a new chief constable.”
There were few surprises in North Yorkshire where the Tory candidate, Julia Mulligan, romped home with 54 per cent of the vote, with 38.7 per cent voting in favour of her only rival, Labour's Ruth Potter.
Seven per cent - about 6,400 - of ballot papers were spoiled, officials said.
A delighted Mrs Mulligan was in no doubt that she had been given the mandate for the job.
“It is a democratic system replacing the old authority which comprised a non-elected committee,” she said.
Vera Baird, former Solicitor General and Redcar MP, who lost her Parliamentary seat at the last General Election, won 56 per cent of the vote in the Northumbria area.
Speaking after her victory was announced at Sunderland Tennis Centre, she said: “What government could devise a new post intended to promote democratic links between the public and the police and not tell the public properly about it?
“What Government could decide to hold an election for a brand new post unlike anything else we have ever had before in the depths of winter?
“The low turnout is not the fault of the candidates. It’s down to the bungling incompetence of this Tory Government, aided by their Liberal Democrat henchmen, and their determination to play politics with policing.”
In Darlington, which held its own count for the Durham PCC position, just 14.3 per cent of people voted.
Darlington MP Jenny Chapman described the poll as a “shambles”.
She added: “Even when we have local elections it’s never been this bad.”
Nationally, the historic vote for the 41 newly-created £100,000-a-year jobs was overshadowed by poor turnout, with fewer than 20 per cent of voters going to the polls, and some cities - like Coventry - barely scraping above ten per cent. In one polling station in Gwent, not a single voter cast their ballot.
The turnout prompted the Electoral Commission watchdog to announce a review of the operation of the polls, warning that the low participation level was a concern for everyone who cares about democracy.
But Mr Cameron insisted the new PCCs did have a mandate.
“The turnout was always going to be low, when you're electing a new post for the first time, but remember these police and crime commissioners are replacing organisations that weren't directly elected at all,” he said.
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