Party politics kept out of low-turnout commissioner election

First published in News Gazette Series: Photograph of the Author by , senior reporter covering Dursley, Cam, Wotton-under-Edge, Sharpness, Slimbridge, Berkeley, Coaley, Uley, North Nibley, Stinchcombe and Cambridge

PARTY politics has been kept out of Gloucestershire Police governance after the county’s residents voted in Independent candidate Martin Surl.

It was a tight contest between the ex-superintendent and Conservative candidate Victoria Atkins who, after the first round of voting, lead by 746 votes.

Despite this, she was unable to gain the 50 per cent majority for a first-round win and so Mr Surl was able to pull ahead from the Gloucester barrister in the second phase of voting, winning with a 4,247 margin and therefore elected as Gloucestershire’s new Police and Crime Commissioner.

In the head to head race Mrs Atkins summoned the support of 32,339 first and second choice votes while Mr Surl prevailed with 36,586.

However overshadowing the election, and a trend across the country, was the poor attendance, with less than a fifth of people voting.

In total, Gloucestershire saw a turnout of 17.1 per cent, with only 80,618 of the county’s 472,376 eligible voters visiting their local polling stations on Thursday, November 15.

As well as the poor turnout, the contest saw 2,115 or 2.6 per cent of votes ‘spoilt’.

Spoilt votes are those unable to be registered due to the form being completed inaccurately, often done intentionally by voters as a form of protest.

Trailing in third place was Labour candidate and lawyer Rupi Dhanda who secured 13,741 first choice votes and it was not the best of days for Liberal Democrat candidate Alistair Cameron either as he only managed to gather 8,663 supporters.

For the Stroud district Mrs Atkins received 5,560 votes, Mr Surl 5,904, Mrs Dhanda 3,357 and Mr Cameron attained 1,100 votes with 482 votes spoilt and a turnout of 18 per cent.

Second preference votes in Stroud topped up Mrs Atkins tally by 533 and Mr Surl by 1,963.

Mr Surl was keen to point out lack of public involvement in the election when he spoke to the Gazette after being sworn in as the new commissioner.

“I know that the awareness was shocking and that wasn’t any candidates fault,” he said.

“No independent should hope to cover a county this size, people should be quite cross about that, the government needs to look at it.”

In his speech Mr Surl said the campaign was won by “working unbelievably long hours” and “having a fantastic team behind him” and now he is looking forward to the challenges ahead.

“I am well aware that officer’s morale is down and that the force’s finances are not great,” he said.

“One of my next steps is to work out if we can do what we want to with the budget and I think we might be able to.

“If I am successful it will be because I will consult and get everyone all working together, however difficult it maybe.

“This is going to be a marathon rather than a sprint, we’re going to start the process now that will last for four years.”

In her speech, Mrs Atkins graciously accepted defeat and congratulated the new commissioner on his election.

“I am proud that 28,422 people voted for me to be their commissioner,” she added.

“This is a wonderful county to live in and I wish the commissioner the best of luck to keep it that way.”

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