Tomorrow is the deadline for candidates in what will probably shape up as the most underwhelming election in democratic history.
The West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner by-election on August 21 has all the hallmarks of a disaster in waiting.
Only 12 per cent of the population, about 245,000 out of almost two million people, voted last time – when there was national coverage and a long campaign build -up.
That, to say the least, was disappointing.
But now we have a perfect storm of factors which could see new lows for democracy in the region:
* The very tragic circumstances in which the by-election was called – the sudden death of highly respected PCC Bob Jones
* The indecent haste with which the law, given a helping hand by UKIP party activists, demanded the poll take place within 35 days
* The high bar for candidates of 100 signatures and a £5,000 deposit – ruling out all but organised political parties
* The by-election is at the height of the summer, a few days before August bank holiday
* And the general lack of popular enthusiasm, or in many cases knowledge of, the role of police and crime commissioner
Now it has emerged that the by-election will cost the region’s taxpayers about £3.7 million to run. Shadow police minister and Erdington MP Jack Dromey pointed out this is the equivalent cost of 158 bobbies on the beat.
On the 2012 turnout that works out to about £15 for every person who voted – it would probably be cheaper to go door to door and canvass opinion rather than pay election staff to sit in empty polling stations for hour after hour.
Already the legitimacy of police commissioners has been questioned after the first elections, especially as the Government has questioned the validity of trade union strike ballots with lower than 50 per cent participation.
It may be the sad circumstances, but even the political parties have hardly raised a fanfare over the election.
Labour are firm favourites to win the £100,000-a-year job and so it was not surprising that there was a four-way contest for the selection. And it was won by a former Government minister David Jamieson – a genuine big hitter.
With there being only a modest chance of a UKIP protest vote or Tory surge raining on the Labour parade, there has been little appetite from the political establishment.
Even former Birmingham council leader Lord Whitby, who gives the impression he would relish a return to the frontline, is believed to have snubbed the chance to be the Tory candidate.
I am told officials pushed hard for the new Baron of Harbone to throw his hat in the ring. “He’s too grand for it these days,” said a Tory source.
Those that have come forward are looking to make a good impression, perhaps with the hope of a safe bet parliamentary or council seat down the line.
So given this profound lack of interest perhaps it is time for the Home Office to take a good look at the PCC elections and, if the role is to continue, make a few changes.
Firstly have an official running mate for the candidate who would legally succeed in the event of sudden death, incarceration or resignation. And secondly use these elections to test out new systems – electronic voting, text votes or flexible polling stations – anything which might take the turnout above its current pitiful level.
As predicted, almost everyone involved is claiming the moral high ground in the Trojan Horse scandal following the publication of the final two inquiries this week.
Those, including the school governors and their apologists, who said that it was all a hoax whipped up by Islamophobia are pointing to both reports finding no evidence of the promotion of violence or terrorism – ignoring the fact that there was widespread corruption within a number of schools.
Those on the other side of the argument, such as Khalid Mahmood MP, can point to the promotion of an ‘intolerant and aggressive Islamic ethos’ in schools which they say is part of a grooming process which can lead some to violence later in life.
Those who want to use it as a stick to beat the education authority have found good cause with the revelation that officers did nothing when confronted with evidence, as they feared being accused of racism if they stood up to the governors.
While others have used it to attack former education secretary Michael Gove’s own aggressive academy programme which they say gave governors more power and freedom over schools without ensuring proper checks and balances were in place.
While everyone can claim they were right, they should all look at where they went wrong.
So far only the city council has apologised, will there be any contrition from others, such as the governors or even the DfE, for their parts in this?