Malpas Cricket Club, on the outskirts of Newport in South Wales, is not especially famous in the annals of the game; nor is its red-brick pavilion. Yet it occupies a strange footnote in British political history. In November 2012, the government held an election here and nobody came.
The pavilion was being used as a local polling station: for 14 hours, council officials sat and waited for voters to turn up and cast their ballots for a police and crime commissioner. Not one appeared.
This extreme example became a symbol for what was seen as a pointless election for an official with no obvious purpose. Elsewhere, voters did turn up: a few of them. The turnout nationally was just over 15 per cent, the lowest ever recorded. That, however, was enough to install 41 new public servants, paid between £65,000 and £100,000 (depending on the size of the patch), to oversee the country’s constabularies, whereupon voters’ indifference rapidly turned to contempt.
Some of the commissioners soon gained a reputation for low-level malfeasance, starting with self-aggrandising interference. Within hours of Avon and Somerset’s commissioner being sworn in, the chief constable resigned after being told to reapply for his own job. Then came the allegations of greed as some newcomers tried to hold on to their old posts as well. Next was cronyism as allies, comrades and chums were handed well-paid jobs as deputies and assistants in what looked like overstaffed private offices. The image has stuck. There is no known case of get-out-of-jail-free cards being offered so speeding motorists can inform busybody officers “I’m a personal friend of the police and crime commissioner”. But it feels like only a matter of time. Public distaste appears to be matched by a sullen resentment from police of all ranks.