Labour is expert at burying bad news

NEXT year's elections to Essex county council and whatever unitary authorities are created in Suffolk will be delayed a month to coincide with voting for members of the European Parliament.

Graham Dines

NEXT year's elections to Essex county council and whatever unitary authorities are created in Suffolk will be delayed a month to coincide with voting for members of the European Parliament.

Although the move is being justified on convenience and cost grounds - it will save local authorities tens of thousands of pounds because the Government will pick up the tab for manning polling stations under the European legislation - the real reason is to compress bad news of any Labour wipe out in the shires.

By combining both polls on the same day, Gordon Brown would suffer just one national defeat rather than two and, importantly, give rebel backbenchers less time to mobilise against him ahead of next year's summer recess - assuming, of course, that events have not already overtaken him.

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Consultation on the Government document Moving the Date of the Local Elections was completed last week and ministers are expected to present the necessary secondary legislation, through a Parliamentary order, to allow the postponement as soon as MPs return to the Commons after the party conference season.

There is nothing unusual in moving poll dates or having more than one set of elections held on the same day. James Callaghan called a General Election on the scheduled day of the 1979 local government poll, John Major did the same in 1997 and Tony Blair went to the country when the county councils voted in 2001 and 2005.

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The difference next year is that two voting systems will be in place. European Parliament elections are held under the list system of proportional representation when voters choose a party, while in the county council elections, people will put their cross beside a candidate's name in the traditional first-past-the-post method.

Labour is braced for a catastrophic defeat in many of its remaining county halls. Lancashire, Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Nottinghamshire county councils are forecast to fall to the Tories.

There was chaos in Scotland last year, which arose when the Scottish Parliament and local elections were held at the same time and voters were presented with two different voting systems. Thousands of ballot papers being rejected

The dual polling day will be Thursday June 4, 2009. The legal process of separating and verifying the ballot papers will take place as usual when the polling stations close, but counting for the county elections will almost certainly be delayed until 9am the next day.

Counting the European votes will begin on the Sunday afternoon, but no declarations will take place until polling stations in the 26 other member states of the EU close that evening, Sunday being the traditional voting day across the continent.

Meanwhile, more disaster planning is under way in Scotland.

The Prime Minister is being urged to hold the Glenrothes by-election on November 4. Fearing the loss of the seat to the Scottish Nationalists, Labour strategists hope the result of a poll on that date will be masked by the election of a new US President two days' earlier.

DAVID Miliband has broken his silence on the invasion of Georgia to tell the world that the UK does not want to launch an “all-out war” with Russia.

Phew! We can all breathe a sigh of relief then. However I doubt if any of us ever seriously considered we were going to launch nuclear missiles from HMS Victorious and obliterate Omsk and Novosibirsk in retaliation.

Miliband's strange observation came yesterday in a radio interview, in which he said Russia needed to consider “isolation, the loss of respect and the loss of trust”' from the rest of the world after Moscow officially recognised the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Miliband is being touted as a future Labour leader, sooner rather than later if all the talk of Westminster plots is true. Bizarre statements like this won't do his standing in the party any good at all.

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