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UK Politics

'Normally there are 500… We've had 53 so far' - facing the 'rush' to vote in the police and crime commissioner elections...

Jonathan Brown finds a rare breed in Keighley – voters determined to rouse bored polling station clerks

Dr John Preshaw was leaving nothing to chance as he marched purposefully down the hill towards St Mark’s Church in Keighley to cast his vote in the election for West Yorkshire’s first police and crime commissioner.

The names of the two candidates he intended to vote for were written on the palm of his hand – just as a reminder, explained the retired GP.

“That says a lot doesn’t it? But this is my democratic duty,” he said. “I didn’t really want to vote. It is democracy gone to a disproportionate length. Should we vote for the boss of a nationalised industry? It seems a step too far and I am great believer in democracy,” he added.

Inside Dr Preshaw was rousing the three polling station clerks from a torpor brought on through lack of action. By late afternoon only 50 voters had turned out. It was the same story in the town centre at a local primary school where half a dozen polling station staff were also kicking their heels.

“We would normally have 500-600 but so far we have only had 53. People are voting for the party they would normally vote for,” said one official. “There is no getting away from the fact that it has not been publicised. Usually there are people waiting for us to open but we didn’t see a soul until 10am,” she added.

There is plenty to play for in West Yorkshire. The three main parties and an independent candidate – a retired detective inspector – are vying for the right to represent the 2.2 million people who live within the force’s 780 square miles of territory.

There are big decisions to make – how to find £96m of savings from the budget and not least who to replace the former chief constable Sir Norman Bettison who stepped down last month as the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigates his role in the police response to the Hillsborough tragedy.

But the outcome will most likely signal continuity rather than the dramatic change envisaged by the Prime Minister when he urged big local figures to come forward. Favourite to win is Labour’s Mark Burns-Williamson who until the election had been chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Authority.

At the polling booth beneath North Beck House, two clerks looked grim-faced. “We would expect a 70 per cent turn-out for the general election, half that for the council election. So far we have had 27 people so that is about 5 per cent,” said one.

Roger Watson, 61, a retired crash repairer, was about to become the 28th citizen to exercise his democratic right. “There has been a total lack of information. I live across the road and have just said to 12 people that they should go and vote. But they don’t know who is in it or what it is all about,” he said.

But he believed it was vital to get the right candidate. “They are going to be on £2,000 a week so you would hope you would get someone who can do the job,” he added.