The Conservatives argue that directly elected mayors and Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC’s) will allow the British public to engage more with politics and democracy. But the evidence that I’ve seen suggests otherwise. People are turned off by politics, not because of the voting or anything associated with it, but because they realize that British politics, parliamentary politics in particular, is distant; they feel alienated from it. The reason for this is quite simple: British politics has long been the preserve of the aristocrats and landed gentry. The interlude between Kier Hardie’s election in 1892 and the end of the 1980s was the only time in this country’s history when working class people were elected to parliament in any great number. No more, it seems. The doors to the Commons have been shut in their faces – like what happens to Black Rod during the State Opening of Parliament. Except Black Rod isn’t elected, he’s appointed by the Crown.
If the main parties want people to engage more with politics, then politics needs to be more participatory. Voting is only a small part of the democratic process and doesn’t form its totality. There’s more to democracy than voting but try telling mainstream politicians that and you’ll get no reply.
When the Tories took power in 2010, they talked movingly about “localism” and what it could do. Localism, in case anyone isn’t quite sure, is a way for the Tories to make cuts to public services under the rubric of devolved democratic power. The powers that the elected mayors will have will be minimal. All you’re doing is voting for a political hasbeen or a political wannabe who will take well over £100, 000 in salary and do practically nothing but spout a load of hot air and look good for the cameras.
Directly elected mayors have been a joke. Hartlepool elected someone dressed in a monkey costume, who called himself H’Angus and Middlesbrough elected a former chief constable as their mayor. It’s the latter that I would like to turn to. Ray Mallon has been elected three times and on each occasion his majority has been reduced and the turnout barely increases, if at all. In April 2011, Mallon was caught on tape allegedly slurring Asian taxi drivers and making sexually explicit comments about a member of staff.
Middlesbrough has a total population of 138, 400. In the referendum to establish whether Middlesbrough residents wanted a mayor, there was a measly 34% turnout. In last year’s election the turnout was 36.5% and Mallon was elected with 17,917 votes or a 50.4% share of the vote. It seems that directly elected mayors aren’t as popular as the Tories or Nu Labour would like us to think. Yet they persist with this nonsense.
Mallon has also indicated that he would like to stand for election to Parliament. Given his track record as mayor, I suspect he will lose his deposit should he decide to stand.
The PCC’s, who are to be elected this Thursday, have failed to fire people’s political imaginations. I expect the turnout will be less than 25%. Anyone who is elected on such a low turnout will not have a mandate. The current system of Police Authorities works, why change it? The reason is obvious: the Tories wanted to politicize policing and they sincerely believe that their candidates have the edge over the others on account of the myth that the Conservatives are seen as the “party of law and order”. They’re cutting police numbers and closing police stations. At this moment in time, they’re hardly the coppers’ best friend.
It seems for all the warm words of Nu Labour and Tory politicians, most of the British public has seen through the democracy sham and turned their backs on these pointless elections. Good.