Will political life resume again in 2021 after a year in the deep freeze?

The votes being counted in Ipswich ahead of the declaration of the 2019 General Election result Pict

There have been no elections since December 2019 - but in May 2021 returning officers could be busy again. - Credit: Brittany Woodman

While 2019 sometimes felt like the Year of Elections, 2020 has been the year when elections - and political activity generally - seemed to grind to a total halt during the Covid19 pandemic.

In 2019 we went to the polls in district council elections, European Parliament elections, and at the end of the year we had the first December General Election for almost 100 years.

But the May 2020 elections, when we should have voted for new Police and Crime Commissioners and for some members of Ipswich and Colchester borough councils, were cancelled in March - just as Britain was preparing to go into the first lockdown.

The elections were delayed until May 2021 - which means that, provided it goes ahead, this poll will be one of the most significant we have seen in many years.

All members of county councils will be up for election for a new four-year term.


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At the same time voters will he able to take part in elections for Police and Crime Commissioners which should have taken place last May. They will serve a three-year-term (rather than the usual four) so they will be due for re-election in 2024.

In Ipswich and Colchester there will also be elections for a third of the borough councils - meaning that returning officers really will have their work cut out to organise three separate elections alongside each other.

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Also there have been no by-elections in 2020 after any councillors resigned or died - those votes are also expected to take place on May 6.

All this means that the returning officers in Ipswich and Colchester will have a very busy evening and following day getting all the votes counted.

But it is not just in elections that political activity has been put on hold.


MP Tom Hunt and Conservative campaigners in the Rushmere ward in Ipswich

MP Tom Hunt and Conservative campaigners were knocking on doors until March this year - but canvassers have had to stay at home over recent months. - Credit: Paul Geater

During normal times, members of political parties spend a great deal of time knocking on doors, identifying their supporters (and their opponents) and talking to householders to find out what they think about issues in their part of the world.

They use this information to plot campaigns for either local or general elections - and also to judge the mood of voters on the ground.

The parties have been using some other ways of getting in touch with residents - phoning or using zoom calls - but most political volunteers admit this is very much second-best to real contact with voters.


Labour canvassers

Labour canvassers are hoping to return to the doorsteps in the new year. - Credit: Ipswich Labour Party

Local politicians have also come to terms with meetings over zoom or Microsoft Teams over the last year - but again are looking forward to the eventual resumption of meetings although they do not know when that is likely to happen.

Although things are looking bleak at present with Tier 4 being introduced and the threat of a new national lockdown still occupying most people's minds, there is a belief that by the spring things may have eased enough to hold the elections as planned.

What is not clear is whether the lifting of restrictions will come early enough for a traditional campaign to be run during the run-up to the elections. Expect to receive as many leaflets as usual, and possibly some targeted social media messages - but you are probably unlikely to find a candidate, or even a canvasser, standing on your doorstep!

And the lack of actual elections and by-elections over the last year means that it is very difficult to get an accurate view of how the various political parties are doing in comparison with one another.

Since Sir Keir Starmer's election as Labour leader, most opinion polls have suggested that the two main parties are neck-and-neck across the country - but without any actual votes being cast for more than a year it is difficult to judge how accurate that is or how it is reflected locally.

Other countries - most notably the US and France - have managed to successfully organise major elections during the pandemic so there should be no problem for the UK holding the polls.

And the government will be keen on them going ahead, if only to show the public in this country and other nations around the world that it is possible for some sort of normal life to return as the spring gets under way.

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