Local elections to go ahead in May in England

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The Government has confirmed today that local Council and PCC elections will go ahead as planned on 6th May in England, in spite of some lobbying to postpone them.

The option of an all-postal ballot has been ruled out, and Councils are being given an extra £31million to install plastic screens and hand sanitiser. Voters will have to bring their own pens and wear masks.

People who are shielding will be encouraged to vote by post. We have already learnt that the rules on proxy voting will be relaxed allowing anyone who has to self-isolate the opportunity to ask for a proxy vote right up until 5pm on polling day.

Schools will not be used as polling stations this time.

The BBC covers the news here, and includes this:

The Liberal Democrats too have expressed concern that restrictions on doorstep campaigning, including door-to-door leafleting, disadvantage smaller parties who rely on activists to get their vote out.

Councillor Richard Kemp, who leads the party’s group in Liverpool, said going ahead with local elections in May could impact on voter turnout, and possibly the results.

“It’s a problem because talking and listening to people is an important part of any campaign,” he said.

“All our parties will be hampered. These could be fundamentally flawed elections, whether they will actually gauge people’s opinions accurately I doubt.”

Ministers say they will publish specific guidance on face-to-face campaigning after consulting political parties.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • Martin Land 5th Feb '21 - 1:14pm

    We should boycott these elections as unfair and illegitimate.

  • Boycott is a non-starter. We would be completely wiped out-2015 repeated. Telephone canvassing and our leader finally pulling his finger out and becoming more media present is now essential.

  • Paul Barker 5th Feb '21 - 2:38pm

    Well I wouldnt bet on Johnson not postponing them on the 23rd of April but we have to assume they are on.
    Obviously face-to-face is out but those who want to leaflet should go ahead & call the Tory/Police Bluff.
    I can see possible horrors with the Postal Vote, Royal Mail are still not back to normal everywhere & then there is the question whether Councils can handle the expected surge in volume.
    We just have to do our best.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Feb '21 - 3:16pm

    “Boycott is a non-starter.”

    Seconded. Cutting off our nose to spite our face. Utterly pointless

  • Well I have to reverse my earlier objects on other posts about the delivering of leaflets.

    Now that the Government has gone ahead and said the locals are on, it is only right, fair and democratic that parties should be able to get their and leaflet.

    Otherwise, this would be nothing more than the Government gerrymandering an election in their favour.

  • @Matt “Well I have to reverse my earlier objects on other posts about the delivering of leaflets.”
    Not necessarily…
    The advice given is dated, namely, it refers to the current situation specifically in January under lockdown. However, a May election and its build-up in April will potentially be undertaken under different circumstances – the expectation being the current lockdown restrictions will be eased.
    By the 1st April, we can expect circa 30M people to have received at least one dose of a vaccine and for infection rates to be reduced. So making leafleting by volunteers feasible.

    The need is probably to firstly ensure that more wealthy parties don’t use the current restrictions to send out a large amount of biased ‘community information’ leaflets, which don’t count as election materials and expenses. Secondly, there is a need to ensure some degree of equality for the campaigning period, so that all parties can avail themselves of the more costly leaflet delivery options that any restrictions would require.

  • Leekliberal 5th Feb '21 - 6:21pm

    If our democracy means anything and the Government wants to limit the delivery of leaflets to paid companies, then a Freepost delivery to every elector must be funded by them. We need to join with the Greens and Labour to demand this basic element of a fair poll!

  • John Marriott 5th Feb '21 - 6:25pm

    I would have liked an all postal election; but apparently the Royal Mail can’t deliver (np pun intended).

    These elections will play into the hands of the Tories, especially around here in Lincolnshire. The Tories have always been the largest party since the County Council was formed in 1973 and have only twice since then failed to gain an absolute majority. If I went to the Polling Station, as I want to see both District and County Councils abolished in favour of a Unitary Authority and oppose PCCs, I would probably yet again be spoiling my ballot, I’m afraid I tend to agree with Martin Land.

  • John Marriott 5th Feb '21 - 6:38pm

    By the way, if you want to see why turnout is always so low in local council elections and why Parish Council elections are so rare, just take a look at today’s internet sensation, the Meeting of the Environmental Committee of the Handforth PC in Cheshire.

    I recall a famous meeting in my early days as a Town Councillor when we spent virtually a whole evening discussing where in the Council Chamber to hang a cuckoo clock that had been kindly given to us by our twin town in the Black Forest.

  • @John Marriott
    “I recall a famous meeting in my early days as a Town Councillor when we spent virtually a whole evening discussing where in the Council Chamber to hang a cuckoo clock that had been kindly given to us by our twin town in the Black Forest.”

    I thought our parish council was bad, for 3 years they have been debating where to put a bus shelter for a bus that only comes through the village once a week and only goes out of the village and for some bizarre reason doesn’t come back.
    Mind you, it came in handy when I had my parents to stay, I told them to go out for the day on the Bus, I haven’t seen them since 🙂 ( joking of course)

  • Tony Greaves 5th Feb '21 - 8:31pm

    There will be a series of leaks, rumours and media inventions as time goes on and this announcements like this will be made from time to time. The elections may or may not take place but we must assume they will. The problem is that the Tories think they are on a winner by preventing volunteer campaigning and getting all their stuff posted – and using their vast databanks of voters to send people emails, social media messages and phoning them. Again their resources are in most places far far greater than ours (or Labour’s and anyone else’s). If it was happening in other countries we would be flying foul.

  • Phil Beesley 5th Feb '21 - 8:42pm

    Leekliberal: “If our democracy means anything and the Government wants to limit the delivery of leaflets to paid companies, then a Freepost delivery to every elector must be funded by them.”

    You have to kick up a stink, in a way that the Daily Mail can’t ignore. Ooh well, that won’t happen…

    Or given that the notification about leaflet delivery was sent about five days ago, let’s make some invisible noise on social media. Everyone knows about Twitter and nobody gives a farthing.

    How about being honest to ourselves. Tell a political story which is different, for you, about people around you.

    The rules are set up for Tories to use their machine.

  • Nonconformistradical 5th Feb '21 - 9:20pm

    @John Marriott
    If Parish Councils had more power and responsibility perhaps interest in serving on them might be greater, with more candidates, making elections more likely and turnout greater when elections do take place.

    No – I’m not holding my breath waiting for this ‘government’ to grant such powers.

  • John Marriott 5th Feb '21 - 9:40pm

    Yes, Mr Radical, that’s just what I’ve been saying for years. Not only give them more power, if they want it; but pay parish and town councillors an attendance allowance as well. I add the word ‘attendance’ because I am fundamentally opposed to paying councillors willy nilly.

    By the way, my local town council made massive strides in the 1990s, thanks, in my opinion, to a small but increasing number of Lib Dem councillors arriving, most of whom, myself included, having now ‘departed’, in more ways than one.

  • IMO, Councillors should be paid. If they are putting in the required hours, then they deserve to be remunerated, and it’s neither fair to them, nor beneficial to the public, to restrict the role to the well off with time on their hands.

    Not only does that limit the talent pool considerably, many of those who do decide to serve will inevitably end up with a sense of entitlement – convinced that because they are volunteering their time that they get to control everything that goes on and behave how they like. For my money, it’s likely that was the root of the problem for Hanforth PC.

    Three things would improve local politics. Paying councillors and other changes to make the role more accessible to younger and less well off people. Greater accountability, with all formal meetings being recorded online, and (I know this is idealistic) full coverage by local journalists, and of course reforming the voting system. All elections should be by a version of STV that best fits the local community and number of councillors to be elected.

    It is worth kicking up a bit of a fuss about the imbalance in the leafleting situation, but very few people will care, and it risks looking like sour grapes, so we have to be careful. We should be mindful that over the last few months many who previously shunned the online world have embraced it. I know of a number of older pensioners who are now fairly happily using Zoom to access weekly church services and coffee mornings.

  • Nigel Jones 6th Feb '21 - 10:08am

    @Leekliberal and Tony Greaves; why are we not being led to shout about this undemocratic ruling by government ? Either leaflets and mail are sage to deliver or they are not, by anyone !! Tories will do all kinds of subtle means to achieve their power and people should wake up to this.

  • Steve Comer 6th Feb '21 - 10:08am

    Councillors on principal Councils ARE paid. I was a Councillor in Bristol for 8 years, and all Councillors got an allowance, and those with extra responsibilities (Cabinet Members and Committee Chairs) got a Special Responsibility Allowance. The current members allowance in Bristol is just oiver £14,000.
    I was also a Parish Councillor in Cambridgeshire for a couple of years in the late 1970s. This was unpaid, but the workload was miniscule compared to that of a District, Counrt , or Unitary Councillor. Given the low precet of most Parish Councils, then paying members would be impssible. Larger Town Councils may be different, but the law currently treats both the same.

  • Helen Dudden 6th Feb '21 - 10:12am

    I agree, I had never been into a zoom room before these restrictions. I knew about Skype because I have a grandchild in the EU.
    Being inventive on how we communicate is the answer. There are quite a few very unhappy voters, how can there be a better future where transparency is the most important issue?

  • Compared with so many countries in the world we live in a democracy but sometimes when I look at the way we are governed, it is extremely hard to believe it. Nationalism is the byword at present and that is a long way from true democracy in my rather sceptical eyes.

  • Barry Lofty 6th Feb '21 - 10:46am

    Compared with so many countries in the world we live in a democracy but sometimes when I look at the way we are governed, it is extremely hard to believe it. Nationalism is the byword at present and that is a long way from true democracy in my rather sceptical eyes.

  • @ Steve, thanks for the explanation of what happens around your way, but I already knew that many councillors are paid, including the Local Authority ones around here and IMO it is a good thing. In response to John’s post that I’d like that to be extended further as I think even fairly small parish council type roles are important and we need to open them up to a wider demographic. They are often the stepping stone into those larger roles, so limiting who does one will limit who does the other.

    @Helen. I’m not sure how best we can use Zoom and video conferencing as part of a campaign. It’s definitely an option for rallying the troops and planning a campaign with known local activists. But what about public meeting style events? You’d need to be able to get in touch with people in the first place, or have a means of inviting them. This is all much easier for existing councillors looking for re-election, especially if you can frame the ‘meeting’ as a briefing on what’s been going on with a Q&A etc. Although it may be that new candidates can take part in events organised by existing local councillors, helping them to be seen as a relevant person.

    There may be an advantage in organising things via a resource such as EventBrite to help with the Admin.

    There’d be a risk of trouble-makers, but a well defined event should make it easier to deal with them. 😉

  • Tony Greaves 6th Feb '21 - 4:09pm

    Zoom is no good for political campaigning as such because it requires the electors to access whatever you are doing and how do they know about it? Leaflet delivery and door-knocking are the only things that are freely available to everyone and without that right we are dead in the water. No – I don’t know why we are not being “led” by people “screaming blue murder” about it. I think people are trying to be too clever by half.

  • @Tony, it’s not a substitute, and I wouldn’t dream of claiming it to be so. However, it is another string to our bow and one that we didn’t have this time last year.

    I did say that the challenge would be getting people to access it is the challenge, so I’m glad we agree on that, and it’s value is definitely limited as a last minute tool, and especially for those who have so far been shy of building a digital presence. However, I think with a bit of creativity combined with an awareness of existing networks, it could be a means of making meaningful contacts with people.

    It’s probably something that should have started before now if councillors up for re-election in May wanted to tap into wider community networks to invite people to their ‘briefing’ without it looking too obviously like cynical party political campaigning, but there is still time for those with the right contacts to build a bit of momentum.

    I’d go so far as to say that now most of the public have embraced online technology, it seems like it would be beneficial for councillors to offer a monthly online meeting for local residents, perhaps anchored around two or three topics. It might need help to moderate questions to discourage trouble-makers, but I can see a lot of people willing to tune into that who wouldn’t or couldn’t make it to a surgery.

    And as much as we might moan that the leaflet ban is unfair, we need to do more than moan about it.

  • It was only a letter, suggested guidance, not the law. We can still leaflet provided fully protected.
    However reason would point to the result not being too clever for us. in 2017 we got 441 councillors with 18% of the vote, in 2019 1300+ with 19%, now polls give us 6-8%, even with better figures ata a local level we should prepare for a not too good an outcome..

  • neil James sandison 9th Feb '21 - 3:15pm

    As someone who supported a full postal ballot and electronic counting I am disappointed by the small mindedness of the minister and the conservatives who have always found democracy to be inconvenient . However we have the cards we have been dealt and we have to identify the positives and exploit them . This campaign could suit the fledgling candidate setting out on the first steps of electioneering . only needs a proposer and seconder , leaflets delivered by Royal Mail or other provider an entry on local party facebook web page with their details and reasons for standing no its not what we would have preferred lets just make the most of it and field as many candidates as we can muster .

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