Our political editor, WALTER CRONXITE, on the implications of any extension to the coronavirus restrictions for the borough’s leafleting cult and the London elections
Westminster observers are already predicting that the London Mayoral and Assembly elections, which were postponed from May 2020 because of coronavirus, could be delayed again.
With Scotland going into a new national lockdown from midnight and bungling Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, recalling Parliament and announcing that he is to give a televised statement to the nation at 8pm amid soaring rates of infection of the deadly virus, it seems increasingly likely that most of the country will be subject to strict new restrictions, possibly for weeks to come.
And that could mean that the borough’s leafleting cults, the borough’s 70 councillors and their mates, already denied their usual excursions for gormless selfies and unwanted doorstep visits for almost a year, will have to put away their little red and blue rosettes again, possibly indefinitely.
This afternoon, a Downing Street spokesman said, “The spread of the new variant of covid-19 has led to rapidly escalating case numbers across the country. The Prime Minister is clear that further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise and to protect the NHS and save lives.
“He will set those out this evening.”
Just as the introduction of the first lockdown last March and Tier 4 measures in London in the week before Christmas were criticised by opposition politicians, union leaders and scientists for being too little and too late, so tonight’s announcement by Johnson comes only after a week of prevarication and inaction, when soaring infection rates led to increasing calls for more decisive action.
Croydon Tories, always quick to try to seize political advantage regardless of the circumstances, last month ended the embargo on canvassing the borough’s streets with a leaflet drop seeking to exploit the financial collapse of the Labour-run council, ignoring any risks of their activists catching or spreading coronavirus as a consequence.
That little reckless adventure to provide householders with some absorbent paper to line their pet cats’ litter trays may now prove to be the last of its kind for several weeks.
And if full campaigning is not possible until March or April, it could mean that the London elections will be postponed for a second time.
Sadiq Khan is already the first five-year term London Mayor, after Johnson and the Parliamentary Tories opted to postpone all May 2020 elections across the country long before his March 23 announcement of the first lockdown. And look how long that lasted.
Since then, 75,000 people have lost their lives to covid-19.
Stephen Bush, in a newspaper column last week, was among the first to suggest that May 6 – which is now just 16 weeks away – might be too soon to stage what would amount to being the largest set of local elections in British political history.
The Times’s Westminster correspondent reported that government sources are already making it known that they think June might be the earliest that any public elections could be staged safely.
The array of elections due to be held this year is massive.
As well as all the postponed 2020 elections, there’s a large set of public polls that were due to take place in 2021 anyway. Added together, it amounts to a massive opinion poll on Boris Johnson, his government’s handling of coronavirus, and of Brexit. And a test of whether Keir Starmer really is as “electable”, as all the Blairites and centrists tried to claim.
In England, all 24 county councils, 35 of 36 metropolitan councils, 28 of the 58 unitary authorities, 62 of the 182 non-metropolitan councils and the elected mayors of England’s great cities, including London, are supposed to be all up for grabs.
Then, as Bush notes, “there are elections to the Welsh and Scottish parliaments, which could end up with pro-independence ministers in office in both countries”.
There’s also the votes for 40 police and crime commissioners. Everyone in England, Scotland and Wales will get a vote on polling day, whenever it takes place.
“Taken together, it’s a dress rehearsal for a general election on a scale we’ve never seen before,” Bush wrote.
It will be as much a public test of Starmer as it will be for Johnson and his Little Englanders in the Tory Party. As Bush put it, “Starmer is more popular than Johnson and more popular than his party: no opposition leader has had such good ratings since Tony Blair in 1995. Look at the Labour leader’s own standing among the public and any historical analysis would tell you he is destined to win the next election.
“But if you look at his party’s position in the opinion polls, then the picture is bleak… The pessimistic take is that he is like Neil Kinnock: more popular than his party but incapable of convincing the public that Labour has changed and doomed to defeat.”
In the London Mayoral election, with the Tories persisting with a candidate who is actually more of a bungler even than Johnson, Labour’s Khan seems set to extend his Mayoralty beyond five years. London is unquestionably a Labour city. Labour got more votes in London in the General Election defeats in 2015, 2017 or 2019 than it did in its victory in 2005.
That, though, may not be enough to salvage the hopes of Patsy Cummings in becoming the first Labour Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton, however long the elections are postponed for.
A collapse in the poll ratings of the LibDems – who under whoever it is that happens to be their latest national leader are proving to be even more ineffectual than “Keith” Starmer – might have revived Cummings’ hopes that she could, at last, oust the Tories from their Croydon and Sutton seat at City Hall.
But Cummings will approach polling day, whenever it may come, with one part of her political CV she won’t ever be able to erase: that she was a deputy cabinet member in charge at Croydon when the council crashed into bankruptcy.
What’s more, Cummings was the deputy cabinet member for… finance.
Despite the pause in proceedings offering time to reconsider, neither the Labour Party in London, nor Cummings herself, appear to think that a factor worthy of rethinking their Assembly candidate.
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