A POLICE chief has claimed people will be voting “blind” in tomorrow’s elections to choose Police and Crime Commissioners for the North East.
Mike Barton, Acting Chief Constable of Durham following the retirement of Jon Stoddart last month, says a lack of understanding of the new role has left many voters “ignorant” about what they are voting for.
And he claimed the four candidates to be his new boss faced an impossible task in getting their messages across.
“To some extent, people who vote will be voting blind for what is, in effect, the most significant change in policing since 1829 (the year of the formation of the Met).
“The candidates have an area to cover in County Durham and Darlington, which is made up of seven political constituencies.
“It has been impossible for them to reach out to get their messages across. There is a lot of ignorance about this election amongst the public, through no fault of their own.
“The other day I came out of an inquest in Crook in my uniform and a very nice gentleman approached me and asked if it was me he ought to be voting for.
“He was obviously confused between the Chief Constable and the Police and Crime Commissioner.”
Turnout tomorrow is widely expected to be extremely low, with Chief Constable Barton blaming the timing of the elections as a factor.
He added: “Perhaps it would have been better to have had the elections in May when the days are longer, or at least to allow voting online.
“Everything else is done via the internet, so why not voting?”
Following the retirement of Jon Stoddart, Chief Constable Barton will not know if he has landed the job permanently until the New Year, by which time the new PCC will be firmly in place.
He said he was “confident” he could work with any of the four candidates, but praised the outgoing police authority, saying: “Their members have a formidable intellect. They are used to asking me difficult questions, which I sometimes struggle to answer.”
Yesterday on a visit to Durham to support Labour’s PCC candidate Ron Hogg, Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper echoed Mr Barton’s views that the election should have been held in May.
She said: “It is the fault of the Government that this election is a shambles. They should have held it next May at the same time as the local government elections, at a time when people are used to going out to vote and when the days are longer.
“This Government will be firmly to blame for a low turnout.”
The four candidates for the Durham force area are Michael Costello, of the UK Independence Party, Ron Hogg, Labour, Kingsley Smith, Independent, and Nick Varley, Conservative.