Angela Rayner is set to call for the upcoming local and mayoral elections to go ahead as planned on May 6th despite coronavirus – and she will warn the ruling Conservative Party against fixing a new date to gain political advantage.
Speaking at the Fabian Society’s 2021 new year conference today, the deputy leader will reiterate Labour’s position that the government should have prepared for the contests in May to proceed without further postponement.
Making the case that the government “has had months to adapt”, Labour’s chair and national campaign co-ordinator will say: “Our democracy must not be delayed because of the government’s failure to prepare and plan for the elections taking place in May.”
Rayner will remind the virtual conference that elections have taken place safely around the world during the pandemic, and demand that government ministers “urgently” announce measures “to ensure that our democracy is protected”.
The opposition party has repeatedly called for safer voting measures to be introduced, such as voting over multiple days or all-postal ballots. It is expected that postal votes will need to feature heavily in any contests held during Covid.
Labour MPs including former frontbencher Andrew Gwynne have expressed concerns this week that the government may seek to use coronavirus as an excuse to implement a delay in order to “get a vaccine bump” in the polls.
Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith told parliament on Wednesday that any change to the date of the elections would “require very careful consideration” and there “should be a high bar for this delay” – but the position is “under review”.
The Sunday Times reported last weekend that a delay is likely, that a unit in the Cabinet Office is working on plans to hold the votes in July, July or September instead, and that 10 Downing Street favours a delay of one month.
Keir Starmer’s spokesperson told journalists this week that “it’s surprising that the government is only now realising that it may not be able to hold them in May” and “the decision to delay is a political one and a failure of proper preparedness”.
Rayner is also expected to tell the Fabians this afternoon: “We already have worst recession of any major economy and now hard-pressed families will be hammered by a triple whammy of council tax rises, Universal Credit cuts and pay freezes for our key workers.
“This year we have seen that it is Labour mayors who have stood up for their communities in the face of Conservative ministers in Westminster who refused to give our communities the support they need.
“It is the Welsh government in Cardiff and Labour councils across the country who have stepped in to feed our children after the Conservatives left them to go hungry during this crisis.
“Out of this crisis we can build a better future – a country worth of the sacrifices of the British people and a Britain that is the best country to grow up in and the best country to grow old in.”
The potential postponement of May elections became a source of tension within the party this week, when during it became clear that some in Scottish Labour – notably Jackie Baillie, now interim leader – believe there should be a delay.
Local elections due to be held in 2020 were delayed due to Covid-19. With the contests pushed back, the May 2021 polling day will now cover 184 councils, 13 directly-elected mayors and 40 police and crime commissioners.
There will also be contests for the Scottish and Welsh parliaments, but these are the responsibilities of those devolved administrations rather than of the UK government. London Assembly elections from last year will take place, too.