Watchdog says that election should be postponed because of coronavirus
Local elections – including the London Assembly and Mayoral votes – should be postponed because of coronavirus, according to the polling watchdog for England and Wales.
The vote to select London’s next Mayor and the 25 Assembly members tasked with scrutinising him is due to take place on 7 May.
Council, mayoral and police commissioner elections are also scheduled to take place in other parts of the country.
But the Electoral Commission urged the Government to hold off on votes till autumn, in a letter to Ministers sent this Thursday (12 March).
Ten people have now died from coronavirus in the UK, with almost 600 confirmed infections.
But Constitution Minister Chloe Smith said the Government was “working to facilitate” local polls, despite the risk from the virus.
She said, “We continue to work closely with those delivering the elections, while being guided by the evidence and latest advice from medical experts.”
But in his letter to the Government, Electoral Commission chief executive Bob Posner claimed there are “real risks to the successful delivery” of votes.
He said, “Clearly any decisions to delay elections which are due is significant and would not normally be desirable; however, we are in unprecedented times.
“The risks to delivery that have been identified are such that we cannot be confident that voters will be able to participate in the polls safely and confidently, nor that campaigners and parties will be able to put their case to the electorate.”
Responding on Twitter, Sadiq Khan said, “As with all issues relating to Coronavirus, it’s crucial we follow the expert advice of the Chief Medical Officer and Public Health England.
“I await official advice from the Government who, with Parliament, will take the final decision on whether to delay the May elections.”
Earlier yesterday, in an interview with LBC Radio, Mr Khan said Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty had told him on Wednesday there was “no logical reason” to postpone the poll.
Liberal Democrat Siobhan Benita said the Electoral Commission’s decision “hasn’t been taken lightly” and she would await “official Government advice”.
Independent Rory Stewart said the polling watchdog had made a “sensible decision”.
Mr Stewart said yesterday he would halt all public meetings and canvassing for his Mayoral bid in light of the virus.
Writing on Twitter, he added: “Ultimately the decision is in the Government’s hands, so we await confirmation.”
Yesterday, Boris Johnson announced Britain would move from a ‘contain’ to ‘delay’ phase in its response to Covid-19.
The Prime Minister urged anyone with cough or flu-like symptoms to self-isolate for seven days.
Speaking after the Government’s emergency Cobra meeting yesterday, Mr Johnson admitted that as many as 10,000 people may already have the virus in the UK
He said, “I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”
Jessie Matthewson - Local Democracy Reporter
March 13, 2020