Elections in 2021 may look different - but they have to go ahead for the sake of our democracy

Votes being counted in Ipswich following the 2019 election.

We might not have huddles of counters and party volunteers at election counts in 2021, but we must have elections to protect our democracy. - Credit: Brittany Woodman

This week the question of whether this year's elections, scheduled for May 6, should go ahead started to be raised as the country became even more embedded in the latest lockdown.

Having covered every election in Ipswich since 1992, I feel I can write about the subject with a little bit of background knowledge and I sincerely hope that on this occasion no civil servants rush into any decision.

Parties might already be thinking about the elections and getting their candidates in place - the Liberal Democrats have just selected James Sandbach to stand for Police and Crime but the fact is polling day is still four months away. 

And four months is a long time in the battle against Covid - especially when we are now in the process of rolling out the vaccines.

I don't believe for a millisecond that everything will be back to normal by early May, but I do think that the pressure on the NHS will have eased considerably and that some of the lockdown measures will have eased. We might not be able to crowd into a concert, but by then it should be okay to go wherever you want for a walk or meet a friend over a coffee somewhere.

Given that, I hope the government will be telling returning officers across the country that they do have to go ahead and plan for elections. 

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In Britain there has been no opportunity for anyone to express their democratic will since the General Election in December 2019. PCCs and many local councillors have had their terms of office extended. Mayors - including Sadiq Khan in London - have served an extra year.

Meanwhile other democracies including France, New Zealand and the largest democratic economy in the world, the USA, have managed to hold national elections. They may not be perfect - but they have given their people a say on how their politicians have handled the pandemic.

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There may be a case to delay election day until early June, as happened during the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001 or, at a stretch, to early July - but no later. The people have to be given a chance to vote.

Elections may have to be organised differently. I wouldn't rule out an all-postal election (however many collywobbles that might give some politicians!).

I'm not sure the usual sweaty crush at the counts in the early hours of a Friday morning will be a good idea. Counting may have to take several days and take place in smaller venues. Maybe have smaller counts in individual wards with a limited number of observers in each - the candidate and one other person from each party possibly.

If it takes a week for all the votes to be sorted and counted, who cares? Democratic processes can take a time and those elected will be in office for years. 

One area of election preparation that has been of interest over the last week has been the saga surrounding Kay Oakes and her apparent support for tweets both backing the Washington rioters and the conspiracy theorists who claimed that the storming of The Capitol had been organised by left-wing extremists desperate to discredit President Trump.

What I found interesting was the speed with which the Bury St Edmunds Constituency Conservative Association moved to back Ms Oakes - it was a decision that some people might describe as courageous. And it's one that has mystified several members of the county council that I have spoken to from all parties.

BSECCA acted pretty ruthlessly in dropping experienced and well-respected (on all sides) former council chair and deputy leader Jane Storey despite the support she had from many of her colleagues from all wings of the party locally.

But it rushed to defend a junior councillor who scraped a win in a by-election two years ago in a seat that had been held by Liberal Democrats for several years. 

I understand the Bosmere LibDems are rubbing their hands at their prospects in the next election - and the Green Party in Woolpit and Elmswell is pretty buoyant about not having Jane Storey as the Tory candidate in next election.

If the Tories lose either of those seats at the next election - whenever it is held - the BSECCA will have to take a very hard look at the way it has treated these two councillors.

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