By John Charles Dyer, UK Correspondent
16 Nov 2012. The tide flowed back to the sea yesterday, leaving yet another Coalition initiative listing stranded on the shoals of public rejection.
15 Nov the British public went to the polls to vote in an election of the new post of Police and Crime Commissioner and 3 MP “by-elections.” These latter bear some resemblance to US mid terms in terms of political dynamics (although the scale and scope differ). Typically, by-elections present problems of spin for the party in power, who regularly suffer from voter discontent.
But these elections present more than the usual challenges to be spun for the UK’s ruling Coalition.
A "flagship" Coalition “reform”-- an elected Police Commissioner to “McMillan and wife” UK policing -- suffered a severe public rebuke. In part because of activist and Union calls to boycott the election, turnout ran very low. As of the writing of this piece, turnout has been less than 20% in much of the UK and as low as below 10% in some jurisdictions. In one location the turnout was zero.
The first Commissioner elected -- Angus MacPherson in Wiltshire -- won a plurality of only a 15.8% turnout, and that only on the second count. The rules of the game gave voters 1st and 2d choices. A second reshuffle of the vote was possible in the event the first ballot proved not to be decisive. Less than 7% of eligibile voters eventually supported the winner’s election, and that only on the second ballot.
That’s some whopping big mandate, that. If such a result were the outcome of a “new democracy” election, the legitimacy of that election would be challenged across Western democracies. Leadership across Western democracies would call for new elections.
Many raise such questions this morning. The UK Electoral Commission announced it will review the election because of the turnout, but this review will lead only to a report not a vacating of the elections.
Coalition policing minister and spokesman Damien Green sought to put a brave face on it, saying the public would “warm up” to the idea. Prime Minister David Cameron argued one could “always” have expected low turnout for a new post. He predicted next time around the turnout will be higher.
But no amount of “face” disguises the facts. Over and over again BBC on camera interviews with the “man on the street” demonstrated undisguised contempt for the initiative. Moreover -- if pundits prove correct -- Labour, who opposed the concept of Police Commissioners, will field more winning candidates than the Conservative Party who proposed them. In at least one jurisdiction the Liberal Democrat candidate received less votes than the number of ballots "spoiled" in protest of the election.
Races for Parliament
If it were only the Police Commissioner initiative pundits and politicians could laugh it off on “Have I Got News for You” (a weekly BBC satire). But it wasn’t. There were 3 by-elections for Members of Parliament.
In Manchester, Conservative candidate Matthew Sephton lost his deposit, achieving only 754 votes to Labour’s Lucy Powell’s 11,507. He was beaten even by a Liberal Democrat, who nevertheless received 10% of Powell’s total. The turn out for the vote was only 18.16%.
In Cardiff -- in a higher turnout at 25.65% -- Labour’s Stephan Doughty won with 9,193 votes. Both Conservative and Liberal Democrat shares of the vote fell. The Liberal Democrats’ share halved.
But the race in Corby was perhaps the most symbolically significant.
Corby is widely seen as a bell weather election. It has gone with the overall UK winning Party in every general election for some time and its demographics are considered representative.
Even before the election Conservatives, who expected to lose, pointed out this was a by-election with all a by-election’s political dynamics. Louise Mensch, who stood down as Conservative MP of Corby for the sake of her family, sought the blame in advance for an expected swing to Labour.
Labour's Andrew Sawford won dramatically. He pulled 17,267 votes. Despite two recounts, Liberal Democrats lost their deposit with 1,770 votes -- less than 5% of the vote. In 2010 Liberal Democrats received 14% of the vote. UKIP out polled them with 5,108 votes, 3x the Liberal Democrat count. The Conservative candidate received 9,476 votes. Labour swung from 1900 votes less than Conservatives in the 2010 General election to 7,791 more. That is a swing as large as the Conservative vote count. It was nothing short of a landslide.
If it were just Corby with just a small shift in votes arguably attributable to irritation with Louise Mensch or just another by-election without the Police Commissioner vote, one might reasonably give the Prime Minister's spin the benefit of the doubt.
But it wasn't just Corby, it wasn't just a small shift. It is the kind of repudiation that one might well expect should call for the Liberal Democrat's leader, Nick Clegg, to take responsibility for his Party's dismal performance. It may not do David Cameron's credibility any good, either.
One expects brave faces and public spin. But in private, Conservatives have to be worried, Liberal Democrats panicked. The clear implication of the election is that Conservatives and Liberal Democrats -- as well as the more explicable traditional supporters of Labour -- are fed up with the Coalition and its radical policies. The voter has rebuked the Coalition. Clearly, the recent push to "be more Conservative" didn't rescue the Conservatives and "not being shy" didn't rescue Liberal Democrats. Politicos, whatever one thinks of their policies, are just too smart not to notice the sand rapidly withdrawing from beneath their feet.
Not all votes are counted, not all results declared as of this post. But the trend is clear.
So are the implications. The tide has turned.