A bumper set of elections is due to be held on 6 th May this year. In West Sussex we have County Council elections, the election for a Police and Crime Commissioner, Borough Council elections in Crawley and Worthing and some by-elections, such as the Trafalgar By-Election for Horsham District Council.
The Government insists the elections should go ahead, but it is Local Government that runs elections. Many senior council staff across the country are concerned about the feasibility and safety of holding the elections.
Many are reporting difficulties in hiring venues large enough to conduct vote-counting safely, in recruiting staff to run polling stations in time to train them, and staff to conduct the count itself.
Council CEOs and Council Leaders are asking the Government to consider these issues and make decisions urgently on whether the elections should go ahead as normal, whether there should be all-postal ballots, or whether they should be postponed until more people have been vaccinated.
They say that the worst scenario is to continue planning for an election on 6th May and to postpone at the last minute.
However, the Government is deaf to their arguments. Instead, the Constitution Minister wrote to all political parties, telling them to cease all leaflet deliveries using volunteers, due to concerns about the danger of spreading the Covid virus.
This is obviously a sensible precaution, in that it reduces the number of people out and about. However, it poses a significant problem to candidates and political parties dependent on contributions from individuals rather than big business or the unions.
Independent candidates, and those from smaller parties such as the Greens and Liberal Democrats, depend on the ability to deliver leaflets throughout the year to get their message out.
The Government has decreed that they can still do that, but only if they pay for delivery, either through Royal Mail, or through an independent company. This is discriminatory, in that only large, well-funded parties or individuals can afford to do this. And we all know which is the biggest, best-funded party don’t we?
Meanwhile the risk remains that these elections - for important roles in our communities - go ahead, with minimal information reaching electors. This will inevitably mean a low turn-out and is clearly not good for democracy.
Our councils are already spending money and effort in planning for elections on 6 th May. Surely, the sensible thing is for the Government to postpone the elections now, rather than be forced into yet another U-turn at the last minute?