TORY Anthony Stansfeld will start work as the region’s police and crime commissioner backed by only one in 20 people voting for him and an apparent protest against the new post at the polls.
His victory to be installed as the new man overseeing Thames Valley Police yesterday was overshadowed by a poor turnout across the Thames Valley with just 13.3 per cent of the 1.69m potential voters bothering to turn out. In Oxford it was down to just 10.9 per cent – a fraction of the 29.4 per cent of people who voted in this year’s city council elections.
And as well as apathy, commentators said the election drew a large protest vote with 4.7 per cent of Oxfordshire ballot papers rejected by authorities for being spoiled or marked incorrectly. That compares to just 0.53 per cent in the city council elections.
Mr Stansfeld, the 66-year-old former Army man from Newbury, beat a challenge from Labour candidate Tim Starkey, but needed to go to a count of second preference votes to do so.
He polled 76,011 votes as people’s first choice for commissioner compared to Mr Starkey’s 56,631. Because he did not have an overall majority, voters’ second choice of candidates were counted, leaving the Tory the winner with 94,238 votes in total compared to Mr Starkey’s 70,403.
But that total equates to just 5.5 per cent of every eligible voter in the Thames Valley selecting him as their first or second-choice candidate.
However, last night he defended the new £85,000 role against the poor turnout and high number of spoilt ballots.
He said: “I don’t think it undermines the idea. Having an election in November with dark nights makes it very difficult for people to vote. The next time, when it is held with council elections, the turnout will be highly different.”
When asked about the spoilt ballots he added: “People did not understand the election and said it was politicising the police.
“In fact this is handing down power and it is a far more democratic system then we had before.”
The new commissioner role, which replaces the system of police authorities, will be to set the police budget and the force’s crime-fighting priorities. Mr Stansfeld, whose main office will be in Kidlington, will also have the power to hire and fire the chief constable.
Oxfordshire voted along its recent political allegiances. Mr Starkey won in Oxford but Mr Stansfeld won the other four districts in the county.
Last night city council leader Bob Price said voters who spoiled their ballots were rejecting the whole PCC policy.
He said: “Many people who are very interested in politics have regarded the whole thing as a complete farce.
“They don’t see why the system we have at the moment should change.
“I think people were absolutely rejecting the policy.”
TaxPayers’ Alliance campaign manager Robert Oxley said he had heard about a campaign to encourage voters to spoil ballots in protest.
He supported the new role but said: “Ministers should be held to account for their complete failure to explain the benefits of this policy to the public.
“Clearly a large number of people have spoiled their ballots, and this policy is clearly not without opposition. But it’s not about politicising the police, it’s about making them more accountable, and the system we have at the moment clearly doesn’t do that.”
After he as declared commissioner, Mr Stansfeld revealed he would be appointing police authority member David Carroll as his deputy.
Independent candidate Geoff Howard had a strong showing, coming third overall and beating the Liberal Democrats’ John Howson into fourth and UKIP’s Barry Cooper into fifth.
Another independent, Patience Awe, was last overall.