Labour has advised all local parties to cancel their meetings and campaigning activities, as the government decides to suspend the council and mayoral elections due to take place in May.
The party sent an email to all local party secretaries this afternoon, in which it advised constituency parties to “cancel all meetings” and “suspend campaigning” due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The government then announced that the local elections – including polls for mayors, councils and police and crime commissioners – will be postponed by up to 12 months.
The Electoral Commission had advised that the government cancel the elections this morning, and Labour backed the call in a letter to the electoral authority.
In the letter, Labour’s general secretary Jenny Formby said: “We share your concerns about the ability of local authorities to deliver the elections in advance and on the day, at the same time as continuing to manage vital services that will have increased pressure on them due to the coronavirus.
“We also have serious concerns about the health and wellbeing of our staff and members who would be campaigning in the run up to May 7th.”
The decision on the local elections follows that of Labour to cancel its special conference on April 4th, at which it was set to reveal the results of the leadership and deputy leadership elections.
Leadership and deputy hustings have been cancelled, including the BAME hustings arranged to take place tomorrow. Welsh Labour conference and the Scottish Labour Women’s conference have been postponed.
The move to suspend the local elections will require parliament to pass legislation. The government says it is following scientific advice. The peak of cases is expected to hit the UK in between ten to 14 weeks, and the elections would have taken place in just under eight weeks’ time.
Below is the full text of the letter sent by Formby to the Electoral Commission.
We were pleased to read your letter dated 12 March to Cabinet Ministers in which you raise concerns about the real risks to the successful delivery of the scheduled 7 May elections because of the spread of the coronavirus.
Of course we always want democratic processes to continue as much as is practical and safe, but we believe you are right to raise serious concerns.
The Labour Party takes our public health responsibilities seriously and, having discussed these concerns today, we have agreed to support your request to postpone the elections.
We share your concerns about the ability of local authorities to deliver the elections in advance and on the day, at the same time as continuing to manage vital services that will have increased pressure on them due to the coronavirus.
We also have serious concerns about the health and wellbeing of our staff and members who would be campaigning in the run up to 7 May. As such, we have today advised our Constituency Labour Parties to cancel all campaigning and meetings.
We agree that the direct and indirect effects of the coronavirus mean there is likely to be a significant numbers of registered electors who would not have the opportunity to vote, or feel inclined to vote – hampering the democratic process regardless.
As well as the public health considerations for the electorate, the primary focus for local council staff as we head towards the peak for the virus in the UK must be to ensure the continuation of critical public services like social care, home care and refuse collection. These frontline staff should not be diverted to administer local elections.
Local elections (and the General Election) in 2001 were postponed because of the foot and mouth outbreak. This is a far more serious situation affecting human health. So, as well as being led by the medical advice, we must also be guided by other official advice and therefore postpone these elections as you propose.
We will be copying our letter to you to the other political parties.
Labour Party General Secretary
Below is the full text of the email sent to all local Labour parties.
Dear CLP Secretary,
You will have seen that in light of the spread of coronavirus, the Labour party has taken the decision to cancel the leadership elections special conference arranged for 4 April in order to safeguard our members and staff and to protect public health. Welsh Labour Conference and Scottish Labour Women’s Conference and the remaining leadership hustings have also been cancelled.
We are now advising that CLPs cancel all meetings and suspend campaigning.
We have today written to the Electoral Commission supporting its call for the local elections to be postponed due to the very many serious direct and indirect implications of the coronavirus.
We appreciate this is a difficult call to make and if you have any concerns or support, please do speak to your regional officer in the first instance.
It is also worth noting that the official advice for those feeling unwell has now changed and we must ensure we all respond accordingly to prevent the spread of the virus.
The key points are:
- If anyone has symptoms of coronavirus infection, however mild, they must stay at home and not leave their house for 7 days from when symptoms started. This action will help protect others at work and in their community whilst they are infectious. If staff self-isolate they should work from home or speak to their manager to confirm they are unwell and unable to work;
- Stay at least 2 metres (about 3 steps) away from other people at home whenever possible and sleep alone, if that is possible;
- Wash hands regularly for 20 seconds, each time using soap and water.
Please do keep up to date on the NHS website and we will send further communications when necessary.