17 Nov 2012

Britons shun polls for new police commissioners

6:20 pm on 17 November 2012

British Prime Minister David Cameron has been accused of presiding over an election shambles after voters stayed away from a costly national poll to pick commissioners to boost the oversight of local police forces.

The turnout in Thursday's polls to elect US-style police commissioners for 41 forces across England and Wales look set to be below 23%, the worst in British electoral history.

The outcome raises questions over the legitimacy of the successful candidates.

Voter indifference to the initiative, designed to make chief constables more accountable to the public, was compounded by poor media coverage, with the government refusing to subsidise candidate mail drops and leaflets.

The decision to hold the polls in November, when days are short and the weather cold, instead of in May alongside regular local authority elections, was also blamed for voter apathy, with candidates winning on turnouts as low as 12%.

Mr Cameron dismissed the concerns, saying the new commissioners had a mandate despite voter indifference and would bring more accountability to police forces than the unelected police authorities they will supersede.