John Prescott’s political career came to a humiliating end last night when he lost his bid to be elected as a Police and Crime Commissioner.
Voters in Humberside rejected the former deputy prime minister, Labour’s most high-profile candidate, and elected a little-known Tory instead.
Lord Prescott was the most significant casualty on a day of political bloodbaths for the three major parties, which saw voter turnout at record lows.
Across Britain the public rejected Tory, Labour and Lib Dems to elect a raft of independent candidates.
The nationwide turnout of just over 14 per cent was the worst on record in a nationwide poll, as ballot boxes in some polling stations were left empty when not one single voter showed up.
In a further blow for the establishment parties, the UK Independence Party recorded some of its best results ever, seizing votes from the Tories and pushing the Lib Dems into fourth place in several seats.
Lord Prescott led after the first round of votes in Humberside, but when second preferences were taken into account the 74-year-old was overtaken by councillor and Tory candidate Matthew Grove.
After his defeat by more than 2,000 votes – on a turnout of just 19 per cent he polled 39,933 to Mr Grove’s 42,164 – Lord Prescott said he did not think he would stand for election again.
In a characteristically long, rambling losing speech, he criticised the creation of the post he had hoped to fill, and complained about the cost of the poll.
He said: ‘I said at the beginning, this is a Tory marginal seat. It’s not a safe Labour seat. It’s not even a Labour seat. It would have been nice but it wasn’t so. The people have spoken.’
Addressing public disinterest in the elections, he went on: 'They didn't turn out in the numbers that anyone would want.
'We have got a low turnout and I don't think that's an easy thing to live with.'
Lord Prescott stood for the election despite having vocally criticised the creation of the new police chief posts. He is now expected to return to the House of Lords.
It is his first personal experience of electoral defeat since he stood for Parliament in 1970. If he had won, he would have taken home an estimated £155,000 from taxpayers in salary and pension payouts.
The peer gave an indication of his electoral chances when he told waiting reporters to 'b***** off' earlier on Friday after they asked if he was feeling confident.
Tory MP for Clacton, Douglas Carswell, said: ‘The result in Humberside shows that the local voters went for quality rather than quantity.
‘The last thing people want is a failed minister running their local police. They were offered a household name and they would rather have someone who is quietly competent.
‘The days when politics is dominated by so-called big beasts from Westminster is coming to an end.’
Local businessman Mr Grove, 49, who runs a successful building services firm, has pledged to cut police red tape and sell off the expensive premises used by the Police Authority and use the money for a community crime fighting fund.
The result was the silver lining on an otherwise dismal day for the Tories who saw the public react with a mixture of apathy and outright contempt for their flagship law and order policy. Tens of thousands of voters spoiled their ballot papers in an apparent rejection of the new elected police chief roles.
At one polling station in Newport, South Wales, not a single vote was cast and ballot boxes were returned empty.
The elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, announced a review of the poll, saying turnout was ‘a concern for everyone who cares about democracy’.
Critics said low turnout meant the new police bosses – who will be paid up to £100,000 a year – would struggle to claim a mandate.
Lib Dem president Tim Farron said it would be ‘extremely difficult’ for PCCs to claim a mandate and warned their legitimacy would be ‘compromised’.
Tory backbencher Conor Burns, the MP for Bournemouth, wrote on Twitter: ‘I suspect we will live to regret creating these Police Commissioners. I regret voting for the Bill.’
Aside from Lord Prescott’s defeat, a number of Labour ‘retreads’ and MPs who featured in the expenses debacle were elected to PCC roles.
Alun Michael, who was forced to repay almost £20,000 in expenses blaming ‘clerical errors’, was elected in South Wales. Jane Kennedy, who stood down as an MP after complaining about a ban on employing her partner in the Commons, won the Merseyside poll. Vera Baird, the former solicitor general, who put through a £286 expenses claim for festive decorations, won Northumbria.
The vote threw up a number of surprise results, including the Tories losing Kent to an independent, the former Police Authority chairman, but winning Dyfed-Powys, expected to be a Labour win.
A Labour spokesman pointed to its win in Bedfordshire despite the seat being 24th on its target list. A former judge won in North Wales and seven former police officers were elected.
Elected commissioners will set the priorities for policing in their force areas. They will have some control over budgets and, significantly, will hold the power to hire and fire the Chief Constable.