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Never mind the turnout – it's the vote that counts

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 10, 2012

A demonstrator dressed in plastic bags campaigns for a 5p tax on carriers, outside the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham

A demonstrator dressed in plastic bags campaigns for a 5p tax on carriers, outside the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham

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Graeme Demianyk hears Home Secretary Theresa May defend the power of new police and crime commissioners.

Home Secretary Theresa May has dismissed concerns that a low election turn-out for new US-style police commissioners will undermine their legitimacy.

On November 15, elections will be held in 41 police areas across the country for police and crime commissioners, including one for Devon and Cornwall and another for Avon and Somerset.

Labour has warned that the new police chiefs could be returned on a vote as low as 8% of the electorate given the low profile and the winter polling date.

Speaking to regional newspaper journalists at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, Mrs May refused to say what would represent a respectable turn-out.

But she went on to say that the new police chiefs would have more legitimacy than unelected police authorities – panels which oversee forces that are to be abolished.

Mrs May said: "There's a job to be done in the coming weeks in showing people what these elections are about. Whatever the mandate is that is received by the police and crime commissioner, they will have a democratic mandate. Police authorities do not."

In her lectern address to delegates yesterday, Mrs May directly linked the performance of commissioners on slashing crime to the ballot box. She said: "The most important thing about police and crime commissioners is that they will need to stand up for the public and cut crime. If they don't, they'll be voted out of their job."

The Westcountry has recorded an increase in crime, latest official figures show, with critics blaming cuts to frontline policing.

While total crime in England and Wales fell by 4%, Devon and Cornwall Police saw crime increase by 6% in 2011-12 – double the rate of any other police force area.

Tony Hogg, a former commander of RNAS Culdrose in West Cornwall, has secured the Conservative Party nomination.

Plymouth councillor Nicky Williams will contest the election for Labour and former Detective Chief Inspector Brian Blake is the Lib Dem pick.

Lib Dem councillor Brian Greenslade, once Devon County Council leader, is to stand as an independent.

Former Lib Dem Devon County councillor John Smith has also put forward his name as an independent, as has former farmer William Morris, from Penzance.

Mrs May said: "The thing that sets the Conservative candidates apart in this election is their laser-like focus on cutting crime.

"While Labour candidates use these elections to play politics, and the Lib Dems try to make up their minds whether they should even take part, our candidates are talking about how to help their communities by getting tough on crime."

She also criticised the number of ex-Labour MPs standing, including former Deputy Prime Minister Lord John Prescott in the North.

"Looking at Labour's candidates, they seem to think the public are desperate for one last reunion tour of the politicians they rejected at the last election – Lord Prescott and the Has-Beens, coming soon to a venue near you," she said.

The post in Devon and Cornwall will command an £85,000-a-year salary. They will control a force's budget and have the power to hire and fire chief constables, who will remain in charge of operational policing. The Conservatives say a figurehead will be more accountable, but opponents fear "Judge Dredd-style" figures more interested in populism than policing.

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