“Omnishambles” has been named word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary but it may not be strong enough to describe this week’s election of crime commissioners.
A bold political idea became a £100m disaster because of a massive failure of communication and an almost total absence of printed material. It led to the lowest turnout ever in a national election.
This is worse than an omnishambles, it’s a democratic scandal, and it cannot be explained away entirely as voter apathy.
The Government’s expectation that people’s curiosity would drive them to search for candidates’ statements on the internet was ludicrous.
The only printed information delivered to households was a bland leaflet explaining in outline how the new system would work, but containing no information about candidates.
It arrived weeks before the election, and was no doubt forgotten or put out for recycling long before polling day.
So how were voters supposed to find out about the candidates? There was a web address on the leaflet, which was widely overlooked. My guess is the tiny number of people who were sufficiently interested would have Googled “police commissioner elections”.
This would have taken them to an excellent series of regional summaries on the BBC website with links to the official Home Office website, choosemypcc.org, where all the candidates’ official election statements were posted.
Someone should ask the Home Secretary how many hits this site received. I’d like to bet that it was fewer than a million, a tiny fraction of the total electorate.
The testimony of friends, family and neighbours ties in with television interviews with confused non-voters. They all said the same. They had received no flyers, no leaflets, no newspapers, no printed information. As one man told the BBC, “Nothing came through the door”.
This was not simply apathy. Even if they had been aware the election was taking place they had no information on which to base their vote.
Apart from undermining the authority and credibility of the new commissioners, this tiny turnout is a wake-up call for anyone who thinks they can do away entirely with the printed word.
It may be true that 83 per cent of the UK population are connected to the internet, but still nothing beats paper for shoving information in front of people’s faces.
– GARETH WEEKES, Deep South Media Ltd.