Local elections will go ahead in May this year, the government has confirmed, following suggestions they should be postponed due to the ongoing pandemic.
Across the Island, electors will go to the polls on May 6 voting for ward representatives for the Isle of Wight Council, the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Police Crime Commissioner and in some areas, town and parish councillors.
Speaking in the House of Commons this afternoon (Wednesday), Chloe Smith the Cabinet Office minister, said safe and secure elections are the cornerstone of any democracy and Parliament’s decision is that they should go ahead in a Covid secure way but the decision would be kept under review.
A high bar would be have to be set to delay to the polls, with robust evidence needed to change the date, as elections have continued safely, not just in some parts of the UK but around the world.
Ms Smith said:
“Due to the pandemic, many elections have already been delayed by a year but voters have the right to be heard and to decide who governs them.
“During the pandemic, local authorities will have taken a lot of serious decisions impacting directly on those residents, from council tax to road closures, and these are important issues where elected representatives should be held to account.”
Following the postponement of elections in 2020, including the Hampshire and IW Police and Crime Commissioners poll, government officials have been working with the Electoral Commission to provide guidance and determine how to safely deliver the polls, which will be updated closer to the time.
Voters have a choice as to how they vote — either in person at polling stations, by postal vote or by proxy (someone voting on your behalf).
Ms Smith said she would actively encourage anyone who is shielding, or would prefer not to attend the polling station, to apply for a postal or proxy vote now.
A secondary piece of legislation will be brought to the House of Commons soon to potentially extend the deadline for proxy voting so that if you are infected with Covid-19 in the days before the polls, everyone can still be able to vote.
Ms Smith said campaigning activity should only be carried out safely, adhering to regulations in place at the time, and invited all political parties “to play a responsible roll in ensuring they are providing information to voters in a safe way that does voters the credit they deserve in an important moment of choice but that takes place in unusual times.”
Labour’s Cat Smith, the shadow voter engagement minister, said clarity is needed urgently for local authorities and electoral staff, as it was another example of the Conservative government being too slow to act.
“Ministers have had many months to protect out democratic process, instead they are treating these elections like it is businesses as usual.”
She also asked the minister to confirm the elections would not be postponed “in an irresponsible, last minute u-turn” as councils cannot afford the “unnecessary expenditure” in arranging the polls and printing ballots given the “crippling government cuts” if they were to be “caught on the hoof” and the polls call off.
A new election date would require new primary legislation, a reason, the cabinet member said, the bar was set so high for changes.