+++ EXCLUSIVE: Government to bring 2013 local elections forward to last Thursday in February

According to a series of leaked memos secured exclusively by The Voice, the Government will bring the 2013 local elections forward from May to February.

The change is being heavily pushed by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which wants to see councillors elected in enough time to be able to influence the coming year’s budget.

“Currently a council can change control in May, but often the fresh policies of the new administration are delayed because the council’s financial year has already started and the council tax level has already been set. We believe elections which settle the control of councils before the start of their financial year will enhance democratic control in line with the Localism Agenda”, argues the DCLG in its formal response to the proposal currently circulating amongst ministers.

The memos also reveal why the Conservatives acceded to Liberal Democrat demands to delay the Police and Crime Commissioner elections, originally intended for this May, until November. As the Ministry of Justice’s response says, “The running of large-scale elections in November will form an important test of the practical implications of running elections outside the normal spring period. Without November’s dry-run, a strong case against the February proposal could be made on the grounds of unknown risk. However, we believe that if the November elections are successful this will not be a significant factor.”

Concern has been expressed at the possible impact of turnout if elections are held in February, when the days are shorter and the weather worse than in May. To assuage them a study has been commissioned from the Met Office into long-term weather trends.

The report concludes, “Our best-fit projection is that by 2018 the average temperature, hours of sunlight and average rainfall in the month of February will be similar to those experienced in the month of May in our baseline period of 1906-1951. Therefore if the weather conditions were considered appropriate in the May elections of those years, our prediction is that weather will also be appropriate for February elections from 2018 onwards”.

Party President Tim Farron is recorded at having expressed concern over the plans in a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, arguing that the shortage of daylight hours in February will hinder political campaigning.

Farron has however been mollified by a pledge that extra grants will be provided to enhance street lighting in areas of predicted low turnout. Moreover, further research from the Met Office shows that the higher average wind speeds in February compared with May mean that although there are less daylight hours in which to deliver leaflets, there is an important compensating factor in wind helping push leaflets through the letterboxes much more quickly.

Farron has also secured a promise from Clegg that the Met Office will release real-time wind speed data under the Government’s open data program so that candidates and campaigners can also easily align their delivery and canvassing routes with prevailing wind conditions in real-time in order to speed up their perambulations. The party is also working on a special Connect / iPhone app to integrate real-time wind speed data with automatically updating delivery rounds.

As a planned cost saving measure, if the last Thursday in February falls on a leap day, the elections will be skipped and all incumbents automatically re-elected, The Voice understands according to a Ministry of Justice memo from Permanent Secretary Faro Illop.

* Mark Pack has written 101 Ways To Win An Election and produces a monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

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26 Comments

  • David from Ealing 1st Apr '12 - 7:16am

    And if it snows?

  • Andy Thompson 1st Apr '12 - 7:34am

    V good mark

  • At first I thought the headline, “George Galloway wins Bradford West” was an ‘early’ April Fool’s joke.

  • That is just about the worst April Fool I’ve even seen. They are suppose to be funny.

  • David Rogers 1st Apr '12 - 8:44am

    Clearly this is NOT an early 1st April joke – it’s right on time!

  • thank goodness i’ve remembered the date today

  • love the idea of wind speed data to help deliverers – v funny

  • Richard Dean 1st Apr '12 - 9:30am

    In other news, the Ministry of the Environment announced that there would be no wind anyway from 2016, as a result of it all being used by offshore windfarms. Opposition Leader Ed “It’s my Rolls and I Like it” Milliband slammed the government’s left hand for not knowing what it’s right hand was doing, while shares in Apple plummetted and Pickles admitted that that he like a pasty pie or two and would be “having words” with the Chancellor to get things fixed.

  • Ruth Bright 1st Apr '12 - 9:30am

    Great – also thrilled to hear that Lib Dem Voice is to merge with Mumsnet.

  • Keith Browning 1st Apr '12 - 10:29am

    The headline had me going for a while because it seemed like such a sensible idea – then I realised this was a political website..!! I think this year ‘Fools Day’ began on Budget Day and shows little sign of coming to an end.

  • Roger Roberts 1st Apr '12 - 1:12pm

    This is nonsense ! Dark evenings – lower turnout. Very uncertain weather (not only in Wales !) Snow often blocks roads and prevents electors reaching Polling Stations. New councillors taking seats in March at end of Counci Budget decisions – inexperienced councillors uncertain of legal procedures. Until post war, local elections were held in November – changed to May ! Who in Whitehall is trying to undermine local democracy ?

  • Tony Greaves 1st Apr '12 - 1:44pm

    Better post in Welsh next time, Roger.

    Tony

    (But actually no more nonsense than the elections in November).

  • Roger yn methu credu bysa rwyn yn deud clwyddau!

  • Stuart Mitchell 1st Apr '12 - 2:30pm

    This is much more convincing than the ludicrous April Fool’s joke I saw in the Sunday Times, which claims that the coalition is planning to give itself China/Iran-style snooping powers to monitor the web surfing and email of every citizen in the country – despite the Lib Dems and Tories both opposing similar proposals by Labour in 2006 on civil liberties grounds. There was even some obviously made-up quote from Shami Chakrabati: “The coalition bound itself together in the language of civil liberties. Do they still mean it?”

    I mean, as if!!

  • I’m surprised that there is no post from Lord Bonkers pointing out that in 1910 (his year as an MP) campaigners and voters were made of sterner stuff. The first election that year was in January, and the second in December.

  • Andrew Thomas 1st Apr '12 - 9:28pm

    Ha ha, nearly had me until the wind speeds pushing through letter boxes. Good one though

  • I saw the Times headline about the state snooping extension and that was funnier than this.

  • Steve Comer 1st Apr '12 - 11:00pm

    I was almost taken in too, its just a shame that enforced Mayoral Referendums with a loaded question (courtesy of the Electoral Commission) weren’t an April Fools joke too.
    On a serious point 2013 is of course Euro election year as well, do we know if these will be combined with local elections as they were in 2009?

  • Christine Headley 1st Apr '12 - 11:19pm

    @ Steve Comer

    European elections are 2014. They are every five years, so a different phase of the local elections is affected each time.

  • Steve Comer 1st Apr '12 - 11:56pm

    Thanks for that Christine – obviously I can’t count properly on Sunday evenings!
    I think aligning the local and Euro elections in 2014 would make sense – it seemed to work well in 2009, and it gives us more light evenings for election campaigning.

  • its such a good idea.. and I disagree with Steve C (what!), elections on the same day mean that the more dominant election (in the media) heavily influences the less dominant. Elections for different things on different days are essential, until we can have a proportionate voting system..

  • Have those who insist on taking this seriously not noticed the by-line – Permanent Secretary Faro Illop? I’m not that good at anagrams but Mark could hardly have been more helpful in reassuring us.

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