The imminent police and crime commissioner elections are set to break all records. Sadly, although the forty-three £100,000 a year posts were established to attract an exciting new breed of regional police chief, an Association of Police and Crime Commission survey has revealed that only 15% of registered voters are intending to turn out on Thursday. If this is the case, numbers will be significantly lower than the previous worst ever turnout which was 23% for the 1999 European elections. That is not the kind of record anyone involved with the reform had been hoping for. So what has gone wrong?
Theresa May, home secretary, said in the lead up to the selection of candidates that the experiment would depend on their quality because they would “need to inspire the electorate”. Charismatic individuals were sought but unfortunately few dynamic candidates emerged. Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator laments that those who have come forward are “political not inspiring” and only one third of the 192 now standing have had any experience of serving a police authority. Several prominent ex-policemen dropped out of the race, citing lack of campaign funding as a reason.
A cursory look at the North East candidates’ campaigns tells me, however, that although some money spent on proactive PR and media support together with effective leaflet distribution would have helped to raise awareness for some of those standing, the majority of potential commissioners have allowed themselves to fall even further behind by failing to capitalise on the social media revolution that has changed the way so many of the hard to reach younger voters are now communicating.
The recent US election has been dubbed the Twitter election with both Obama and Romney using online communication in a sophisticated and integrated way. The Royal British Legion, previously seen as an uber traditional organisation, has blasted that image out of the water and shown the country what an innovative social media campaign can achieve. Their #LestWeForget message was relayed to over 10 million people on the morning of Remembrance Sunday via the Thunderclap crowdspeaking platform, Facebook and Twitter.
Yet in our particular local police commissioner elections, out of the twelve candidates for the Northumbria, Durham and Cleveland police regions, three have no Twitter presence at all and of the nine that do, only one has more than 1,000 followers. Six of them have LinkedIn profiles, five have Facebook pages, four have websites and three have blogs. One rather disastrously refers to himself on campaign literature as ‘Ron’ while his online presence, such as it is, is listed under the name ‘Ronald’. Search engine optimisation is clearly not on his agenda and the same could be said of most his rivals. If a potential voter searches Google for ‘police and crime commissioner’ or any number of variations on that theme, the website with the highest listing is www.policeelections.com, but only five candidates have actually completed their profile on this site.
David Cameron said recently that he feared that “cynicism and apathy” might depress the vote but I am concerned that lack of online communication skills may be just as damaging.
Blog post by Peter Bould.