This article was written by Aled Morgan Hughes, a PhD student in the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University. You can follow Aled on Twitter: @AledMorganH
Forgiveness is on offer to those who might have forgotten that Wales’ next Government won’t be the only thing decided at the polling box on the 5th of May, 2016. It will also be judgement day for Wales’ four Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC).
It’s fair to say that the idea of voting for their PCC hasn’t exactly caught the imagination of the Welsh and English electorate. When the first elections were held, in November 2012, turnout across the four Welsh Police areas was a measly 14.9%. And one polling station in Bettws, Gwent, proudly achieved a 0% turnout! Recent PCC by-elections in England haven’t suggested any growing interest either, with a turnout of 14.8% in South Yorkshire last November – albeit this was an increase from the 10.4% witnessed in the West Midlands in August 2014. Some people remain opposed to the existence of PCCs, while others complain about their cost, the decisions taken by PCCs, or the occasional scandal.
Across Wales in 2012 it was, unsurprisingly, Labour who came out on top. The party was riding high in the Welsh opinion polls at the time, and they won 144,805 of the First Round votes. (As you may recall, PCC elections use the Supplementary Vote system). Across the regions, however, Labour’s fate proved mixed. Former First Minister (sorry, Secretary) Alun Michael won in South Wales. But it was a different story for his son, Tal, in North Wales region, where he lost to independent candidate Winston Roddick. There was a similar story in Gwent, where another independent candidate, Ian Johnston, claimed victory. And in Dyfed-Powys Conservative Christopher Salmon narrowly overcome former Labour AM and Agriculture Minister, Christine Gwyther.
However, PCC elections in 2016 are likely to be very different from the 2012 vintage, for three main reasons.
Turnout: Although not reaching the levels we find in Westminster general elections, turnout for National Assembly elections has averaged a little over 40%. Whatever people think about the idea of PCCs, therefore, we are likely to get a far greater number of people voting in the elections than in November 2012.
Party Competition: Another major difference from 2012 will be the increased level of party competition for the roles. Plaid Cymru refused to put up candidates for the election in 2012, a decision that may have helped the independent candidates. But in 2016 Plaid will field candidates in all the four regions. It is also likely that the Liberal Democrats will field candidates; while representatives of UKIP (who stood unsuccessfully in North Wales last time) may also stand.
Political Context: As well as raising turnout, holding PCC elections on the same as the Assembly poll will also shape the broader political context in which these elections are held. Two of the four races were won in 2012 by independent candidates. Success may be harder for such candidates against a general political context dominated by the parties campaigning for the Assembly election. We don’t yet know much about how voting patterns may differ between the Assembly and PCC elections, particularly when they are held simultaneously.
On this latter point, we can at least look at how people voted in past Assembly elections, and try to map these results onto the four PCC regions – which, of course, differ from the five regions we have for electing party list representatives in the Assembly. In the following tables, I map the results of the constituency vote in the 2007 and 2011 National Assembly election as closely as I can onto the PCC boundaries. (The main complication is the Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, the majority of which is in the South Wales PCC region, but some of which is in Gwent. I hope no offence is caused by my including Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney in South Wales here!)
National Assembly 2007 Results (Constituency Results by Police Region)
|Police Region||Labour||Conservative||Plaid Cymru|
National Assembly 2011 Results (Constituency Results by Police Region)
|Police Region||Labour||Conservative||Plaid Cymru|
This exercise indicates that, had people voted in PCC elections in remotely similar ways to how they voted in the National Assembly, Labour would have won both the Gwent and South Wales PCC regions comfortably in 2007, and even more so in 2011. This suggests that Labour must start as strong favourites in both regions in 2016.
The picture looks much less clear-cut in the two other regions. Plaid Cymru must fancy their chances in Dyfed-Powys. Not only did they top the constituency vote there in 2007, and come very close in 2011; this area will include both current strongholds (Ceredigion and Carmarthen East & Dinefwr) and target seats (Llanelli and Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) in the Assembly election; Plaid’s levels of activism within the area should, therefore, be strong. However, the Conservatives came top of the constituency vote in this area in 2011, and with their support levels in Wales generally looking robust, plus with whatever benefits come from PCC incumbency, they will have realistic hopes of holding the region.
North Wales also promises to be an interesting race. In the 2011 Assembly election, Labour came out on top here comfortably, whilst Plaid (who won the most constituency votes here in 2007) slipped to third behind the Conservatives. This time round, the region could well be within the grasp of all three parties. And the incumbent independent candidate will probably also be standing! North Wales could well be the region where second preference votes are most likely to decide the matter.
Thus, when we look forward to next May, most people in Wales are currently focussing on the National Assembly election. It may grab most of the headline. But the Police and Crime Commissioner elections could indeed prove to be an interesting sub-plot!