The vote to elect the next mayor of London, as well as a host of other city mayoral votes and local council elections that were due to be held in May, has been suspended for 12 months over coronavirus concern.
While the British government has not taken steps to protect the public like strengthening border control or even banning travel from infection hotspots like Italy as other countries such as the United States and the Czech Republic have done, it moved to protect politicians on Friday when it announced the suspension of campaigning for the May 12th elections.
Local government and mayoral — including the vote on London’s mayor — will now not take place until May 12th 2021, 12 months after their due date. As local elections run on a rolling basis with half of the councils being elected at any given time, it is not clear whether the next term would be shorter, or if the other half of the cohort would also be given 12 months more to keep the votes in-synchronisation.
The Government has taken the decision to postpone the May elections for a year. I will continue to work with the Government and experts to help London manage coronavirus over the weeks and months ahead. I will always do everything in my power to stand up for London. https://t.co/jkZXZEKtjo
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) March 13, 2020
The decision means at least 12 months more for London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who was due to face the ballot box and the residents of London as his first four-year term came to an end. While crime has indeed soared during his tenure, Mayor Khan is polling highly and was expected to win.
The suspension may possibly benefit Conservative challenger Shaun Bailey, who is comparatively little known compared to the heavyweights who have traditionally vied for the position of London mayor. An extra year’s campaigning may allow him to raise his profile.
The decision to defer the vote came after advice to the government by the Electoral Commission on Thursday. The commission had told the government there were “growing risks” to the election and that many people may be prevented from voting, the Daily Telegraph reports.
Election campaigning tends to involve a lot of personal contact, travel, and knocking on the doors of strangers, and the height of the campaign would have come at the point the government predicts the coronavirus outbreak in the UK would be at its most intense.
The decision comes just days after Mayor Khan told radio audiences in London that be believed it would be safe to go ahead with the election. He said he had been told by the Chief Medical Officer that “there is no logical reason to postpone or cancel the elections. If somebody is worried about going to a polling station, it is important to make postal votes as easy as possible.
“If there is some very small risk, the way to make that risk even smaller… is wiping the pencils with a wipe. You can always wash your hands after you’ve voted and stuff… the key thing is, the advice from the experts is there’s no logical reason to cancel or postpone.”
Face-to-Face Brexit Talks with EU Cancelled over Coronavirus https://t.co/PgWOH74QZS
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) March 13, 2020
Taking the opportunity to hit at his opponents, the Mayor quipped that there were some other candidates that would appear on the ballot paper where the public would want to wash their hands after voting for them.
The decision by the UK government contrasts with the decision reached by the French government on Thursday to press on with their local elections despite being worse hit by coronavirus nationally than the UK. Speaking to the nation on Thursday afternoon, French President Emmanuel Macron said despite the epidemic, “It is important (…) to ensure the continuity of our democratic life and of our institutions”, reports Le Monde.
President Macron said polling stations would be instructed to make voting as hygienic as possible, and that he had been told by a medical advisor: “There was no more danger in going to vote than going to the bakery or buying carrots for soup. The limited social life does not call into question the elections.”
Coronavirus has now killed over 5,000 people worldwide, and the World Health Organization has stated the global centre of the pandemic is now in Europe, not Asia. The United Kingdom is among the less impacted developed European economies, with 798 cases and 10 deaths compared to over 15,000 cases and over 1,000 dead in Italy, the worst impacted.