THIS Thursday, voters in Bexhill go to the polls to elect the county’s first police and crime commissioner.
Around 1.5million people are eligible to put their cross next to the name of one of the five candidates, but political commentators are worried a lack of publicity and interest from the public could see a low turn-out despite the gravity of the selection choice.
All three political parties are fielding a candidate and they will be urging traditional supporters to throw their weight behind them.
The Conservatives, who dominate much of the Sussex electoral landscape, have chosen private investor Katy Bourne to fight their corner, after a high profile campaign by current East Sussex County Council chief Peter Jones fell flat with party voters.
Labour has plumped for magistrate and former mayor Godfrey Daniel, while the Lib Dems will be hoping their last minute selection of Newhaven councillor David Rogers will bear fruit.
Outside the mainstream a raft of mooted independent candidates has withered to just one, Brighton’s Ian Chisnall. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) makes up the quintet with their man Tony Armstrong.
The outcome is almost impossible to call because, being the inaugural election, there is no precedent from which to predict voter turn-out, but if the last Parliamentary elections are any indication, the Tory candidate may take some beating.
If you added together the voting results across Sussex at the last election, the Conservatives would lead the way with around 45 per cent, compared to the Lib Dem’s 27 per cent and Labour’s roughly 16 per cent. UKIP polled less than the five per cent Mr Armstrong would need to get his deposit back.
Each candidate has had to cough up a flat fee of £5,000 which is only returned if they get enough votes, as well as 100 nominations.
There are also strict rules on how much can be spent on each candidate’s campaign, with an upper cap of just under £220,000 – a figure which perhaps explains the lack of independent voices willing to go toe-to-toe with the established heavyweight parties.
The winning candidate will secure a salary of £85,000 and will be responsible for a budget approaching £250 million.
A low turnout is expected at the vote on Thursday with claims there has been insufficient publicity about the elections.
Home secretary, Theresa May this week refused to set a minimum turnout for next week’s police and crime commissioner elections, in the face of claims that it could fall to the lowest in British election history.
She said the new commissioners holding the police to account across England and Wales would have a democratic mandate even if the turnout fell to 10 or 15 per cent, and would be more “visible and accessible” than the police authorities they are to replace.
The home secretary said the latest polling data showed that 62 per cent of people were aware the elections were happening on Thursday.