LABOUR has taken control of both Northumbria and Durham in the first ever Police and Crime Commissioner elections – but a tiny turn-out was the main story.
Former MP for Redcar Vera Baird won with 56% of the votes in Northumbria while retired deputy chief constable Ron Hogg polled 51% in Durham.
A count of losing candidates’ second preferences was needed in both Cleveland and Cumbria. Labour’s Barry Coppinger won in Cleveland, while Conservative Richard Rhodes triumphed in Cumbria.
Just 14% of people went to the polls in Durham. The turnout in Northumbria was 16.8% from an electorate of 1.1 million people.
Concerns from electoral lobby groups that such low figures have undermined the position were quickly rebuffed by Ms Baird, who classed winning by such a wide margin over her nearest challenger as “legitimate”.
Speaking after her victory, she promised a “root and branch” investigation into Northumbria police’s effectiveness.
She said: “My job is to find out what the public want and build contact with the public. It’s a root and branch investigation at what’s going well in the public mind and what’s not.”
She promised to tackle anti-social behaviour, domestic abuse and sexual violence as well as rapidly put into place a five-year policing strategy in conjunction with Chief Constable Sue Sim.
“I support the Chief Constable who has fought back against cuts and she has supported neighbourhood policing which is important as it keeps police and communities close together,” she added.
Labour polled 100,170 votes for a comfortable victory over Conservative Phil Butler. UKIP’s Alistair Baxter beat Lib Dem Peter Andras to third place.
The leader of Northumberland County Council’s Conservatives, Peter Jackson, claimed the PCC election revealed a completely changed political landscape in the county as the Tories trailed Labour by just 266 votes.
“There seems to have been a complete switcharound after the Lib Dems performed extremely poorly and we have actually got a two-horse race in Northumberland now.”
In Durham, former policeman Ron Hogg comfortably held off the challenge of his nearest rival, independent Kingsley Smith, a former Durham County Council chief executive. UKIP were again third, with the Conservatives slumping to fourth.
Mr Hogg pledged to cut the police authority budget to “free up more money for front line policing” and to “put victims of crime first”.
One of his first jobs will be to appoint a chief constable to his force. Mike Barton has been a high-profile acting chief since Jon Stoddart retired last month.
Mr Hogg also pledged to address issues which concern the public, and he said that while campaigning he was “surprised” to learn that speeding motorists were a cause for concern.
He blamed the low turnout on it being the first PCC election, poor publicity around the issue and the fact it happened in November.
He said: “It is true that a lot of people didn’t seem to know what the job was all about, but I think the public did appreciate the fact that I had considerable experience within the police force.”
Meanwhile, the mayoral career of Stuart Drummond, who shot to fame in 2002 after winning in Hartlepool as an independent candidate, is drawing to a close after voters in the town voted for the council to be run by committee.
Mr Drummond won three successive terms. But the post was threatened after Labour councillors demanded a referendum on how its council was run.
On Thursday voters agreed and they decided to ditch the post. Mr Drummond will continue in the post until the next local elections in May.