We’ve been having a look at the results from the Police and Crime Commissioner elections – not uniquely I add and I would recommend the analysis on the Guardian Data Blog as well as Sam Chapman’s writing over at http://topofthecops.com/.

The success of the independent candidates is perhaps the most interesting outcome once we look past the turnout figures.

We all know the top line figure:  39% of the new PCCs are Conservative, 32% are Labour and 29% are Independent.  If we look at who they won against those second place candidates breakdown 39% Conservative, 42% Labour, 17% Independent and 2% English Democrat.  However when we look at all of the areas we can see that 55% of the final results were between Conservative and Labour and 45% saw the mainstream party being beaten into third place and an independent being in the running.

Sam Chapman has an excellent post here about what this might mean with respect to the Conservative vote and makes the very valid point that many of these ‘independents’ were in fact local conservative candidates who failed in a seemingly flawed process for choosing local candidates.  However it shows a very different picture to anything we would experience at a General or Local election at this point – this is the first time we have seen anything like this level of success for independent candidates.

The intriguing question is what, if any, effect will this influx of independent politicians have on Local politics and how much more difficult will this make it to integrate PCCs into the National democratic conversation which relies on party politics to function?

Part of the answer to this question lies in how effective the new PCCs are at creating effective relationships not only with the Chief Constable and partner organisations but also with the public.  I wrote last week about the urgency with which the PCCs needs to address their relationship with the public and for independent candidates this is going to be even more important as they have to expect that the mainstream parties will take these elections far more seriously next time.

It’s possible to link the number of Independents with the low level of voter turnout – the lack of even name, let alone policy, recognition being a reason why people didn’t vote – and to suggest that this is a one-off result which will not be repeated once the PCC position has a higher profile with the public. It’s also possible to link it to a general protest against the post itself or a protest from people who wanted to show their dissatisfaction with mainstream parties.  We can finally link it to the fact that many people truly believe that politics has no place in Policing.

However, the fact remains that having a large group of independent politicians represented in the ‘tribe’ of Police and Crime Commissioners reinforces the opportunity that PCCs offer to do politics in a different way.  If we want our politicians to be open, digital, networked and agile then perhaps Independents who are not hindered by having to update a party machine will be able bring these principles to bear quickly.  The political party structure brings with it support, expertise and resources – but it also brings with it the negative connotations of ‘traditional’ politics.  It will be interesting to see how these tensions play out over the next few months – and whether we see any related impact at the next Local Elections in May 2013.

Even without the final results it’s not too early to say that the turnout for the Police and Crime Commissioners has been horribly horribly low. Just a few examples: 16:09% in Nottinghamshire, 19.58% in Avon & Somerset, 19:48% in Humberside but these levels also mask areas of even lower engagement in some places: 11% in Coventry, 10.3% in Epping, 15.65% in Hull, 15% in North Devon. The list does and will go on.

The Electoral Reform Society predicted levels like this earlier in the year but could not sway the Government with respect to either their funding of information or timing of the election – a decision which I personally think shows very little respect for our democratic process.

I’ll be interested to hear whether the Lancashire or South Yorkshire numbers are better given the real commitment of both these Police Authority teams made to get the vote out but in turnout terms no-one can be happy with the degree of voter engagement.

The reasons for this will be complex. Overall we are seeing a general decline in democratic participation and engagement with politics. More acutely for this election the public clearly feel uninformed about both the post and the candidate choices. The mainstream media have been more preoccupied with the US election than this one. Local media has shrunk in many places to the point of irrelevance, which has not helped raise the level of debate about the electoral process. Online the discussion is still fragmented and no candidate ran a really strong social media campaign – though many at least made good efforts. I think there has been a real rejection of party politics and a desire to see independent candidates (making the setting of the deposit at £5000 rather than £500 perverse at best). There is another factor I think in play here which is that the little that people have heard about this election over time has been concentrated on resistance to the post from the Police themselves – who would you rather trust a Policeman or a Politician?

People have been asked to vote for something they didn’t want and for people who they don’t know – can we really be surprised at the turnout? The question is what are we going to do about?

Our choices: We can do an old style political party based post game chat amongst the traditional media – perhaps with some braying in the House of Commons – or we can try and use this as an opportunity to really address the issue.

I believe that if we are going to ‘fix’ politics then we need to start to build a radically different relationship between Citizen and State; one which is more open, networked, agile and digital. Not direct democracy but direct representation – where we can feel a connection to the people representing us and as a result take more responsibility for what happens in our communities.

Police and Crime Commissioners need to make their first priority in post the creation of a meaningful democratic relationship with their constituents. Not one which is mediated through consultation, engagement and PR but one which transforms these functions into something that makes them and this post real to the public.

I have met many of the PCC candidates and Officers who will be supporting them over the last year and there is a huge appetite amongst them to serve their communities in the best possible way. However it will take real courage to seize the opportunity to break with the political pattern and go back to their electorate and really introduce themselves. Arranged marriages can and do work – but it takes effort, respect and patience on both sides. I really hope the new PCCs prioritise this relationship building and start by owning and acknowledging the low turnout and the signal that the public has sent them.

The alternative is that we continue as we are and as @demsoc says we miss the opportunity for democratic reform for the next 10 years. Do we really think we can or should wait that long to fix this?

I’ve just finished reading “The Internet and Democratic Citizenship; Theory, Practice and Policy (by Stephen Coleman and Jay Blumler) so this my research note for my literature review so there are some observations and then a wrap up from me….this is a long one so you may just want the highlights:

  • The analysis of the problem of democratic deficit and political disengagement is excellent

  • The authors are proposing a civic commons which is run by an arms length government organisation – something I am profoundly uncomfortable with

  • There is a lack of sophisticated interpretation of the social web and the implications of the social connections between individuals – they are still talking about websites as destinations rather than feeds and individual control

  • The idea of co-creation is not explored to the extent which I think it warrants.

For those of you with more interest in this here are the notes – or you can just jump to my conclusions.  (more…)

Perhaps it is just because I have only started twittering this week but there did seem to be a lot of talk about the new conservative party website – but perhaps the twitterati are always this vocal!

Of the articles/blogs I’ve read today I thought the futuregov one was probably gives the best summary/analysis – you can read it here.  One thing I would pick up on is mentioned in the FutureGov piece – there is no social networking or online community building included as part of the site.  Now in some ways you can just see this as more honest – I can’t imagine the party machine (of any party) listening to on online debate on their manifesto – but its a fairly stark admission in my mind.  Its all about broadcast views and comments – not about valuing the community and their contribution.  This is so very similar to the way that government has ended up relying on consultation rather than listening and debate – but I think really highlights the fact that “politics” seems to be getting in the way of actually engaging with the issues.

But the reason that this has set us all chirping is the parallel’s with the Obama campaign and its huge success in the online arena – and its clear that as a campaigning platform this is very impressive and I hope the other parties step up to the plate.  I have to say I do wonder if the website will be able to mobilise the party followers in the same was as was achieved in the US – but I don’t really know enough about grassroot party membership to know – please comment if you do!

I guess the thought to finish with was something said to me today by one of the people in the Virtual Town Hall Pilot:  “I am quite excited to see UK politics pick up on the Obama banner/strategy +interested to see how it works here…potential to get more online people engaged in UK politics – surely knock on to local – which is what people really care/can make a difference. This is why we need to be in a position to funnel users into our democratic channels etc.” And I have to say I agree – feel free to criticise me but I feel very little connection with politics at a national level – but I do have a huge belief in the opportnity for local politics to improve.  Hopefully the spotlight of fancy new websites and a general election is something we can use to help achieve this.

PS – the only reason for the title was the idea that you might want your own conservatives – I just find this rather odd – it kind of assumes that the site is only for people who have made up their mind – but on reflection perhaps this is exactly what it is!