London Mayoral and Assembly Elections Postponed for a Year

Government makes announcement after Electoral Commission called for delay

The London Assembly building. Picture: Garry Knight

Local elections across England and Wales including the London Assembly and Mayoral votes are to be postponed for a year because of coronavirus.

The government made the announcement following a recommendation from the Electoral Commission that they be delayed.

The vote to select London’s next Mayor and the 25 Assembly members tasked with scrutinising him was due to take place on 7 May.

Voting was due to take place at 118 councils in England and for seven regional mayors, as well as elections for police and crime commissioners.

But the Electoral Commission urged the Government to hold off on votes till autumn, in a letter to Ministers sent this Thursday (12 March).

Downing Street today said the elections could not go ahead as they would coincide with the peak of the virus. Voting will now take place in 2021, so Sadiq Khan will remain at City Hall for another year.

Ten people have now died from coronavirus in the UK, with almost 600 confirmed infections.

In his letter to the Government, Electoral Commission chief executive Bob Posner had claimed there were “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.”

Earlier yesterday, in an interview with LBC Radio, Sadiq Khan said Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty had told him on Wednesday there was “no logical reason” to postpone the poll.

Responding to the news of the election postponement, Mr Khan said he would “continue to work with the Government and experts” to manage the spread of coronavirus in the capital.

Writing on Twitter, he said:“I will always do everything in my power to stand up for London.”

Conservative mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey said the decision “will not have been made lightly”.

He said: “I have said from the offset that we must listen to the experts and follow their advice.

“The health and welfare of the public is critical and there should be no barriers to people exercising their democratic right. I’ll spend the next 12 months campaigning to make London safe.”

Liberal Democrat Siobhan Benita said the Electoral Commission’s decision “hasn’t been taken lightly”.

"These are unprecedented times which require unprecedented action. Nobody would have wished the postponement of these elections in these circumstances.

"I respect the Government's decision to delay and I will continue to follow the expert advice as the situation progresses.

"I have already offered my personal and party support to Sadiq over the coming months. Supporting the most vulnerable during this period is crucial and I would encourage Londoners that are able to help to look out for their friends, family and neighbours at this time," she said.

Independent Rory Stewart said the polling watchdog had made a “sensible decision”.

Mr Stewart had said yesterday he would halt all public meetings and canvassing for his Mayoral bid in light of the virus.

Writing on Twitter, he said: “We should now move more rapidly to close gatherings, and schools; extend the isolation period; and restrict non-essential visits to care homes who have few back up options for patients if they have to close.”

But Green candidate Sian Berry said the election should go ahead sooner if it was practically possible to do so.

She said: “If large numbers of people cannot vote then the election must be postponed.

“Of course this is frustrating as polling shows record support, with Greens on course to win at least one extra Assembly Member, but it is important we have these elections at the right time.”

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.”

Written with contributions from Jessie Matthewson - Local Democracy Reporter

March 13, 2020