'This year it is wholly implausible' that local elections will take place
- Credit: Getty Images
Like many people, I breathed a sigh of relief last week when Airforce One took off for the last time carrying the considerable load of Donald J Trump’s ego. It deposited him a few hours later for a limo ride from Palm Beach Airport through the drained Florida swamps to his terminal destination at Mar-a-Lago.
Such was the hysteria that he’d finally left the stage that my relief was less to do with democracy than merely that none of his tragically brainwashed followers had unleashed bazooka rounds at President Biden’s inauguration. We’ve been exposed to so many movies like Olympus Has Fallen or White House Down that we are habituated to fictional portrayals of the heart of US democracy being taken over by berserk terrorists.
But thankfully, there was none of that. Instead we had a calm parade of former presidents sitting peaceably next to each other, Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga, all doing what Americans do very well indeed – here is what we believe in, watch and listen, and suck on that Donald. The end of a terrible four years.
The highlight for me, however, was not Joe Biden, but the swearing in of Kamala Harris as the Vice President. From a number of ethnic identities, super-smart, graceful, funny and, of course, female, this was all kinds of history being made at once.
Deeply moving to watch for anyone and I confess as the father of two daughters that I am an absolute pushover for any kind of story of female empowerment. Even Katy Perry singing Firework, or The Spice Girls with Tell Me What You Want. Anything that says to a bunch of stale males, we’re here, has me dabbing my eyes I’m afraid. A terrible old softie in that respect. I have never had to fight the battles that women have, and when I see what they have to do sometimes it moves me to the core.
However, all this glamorous international politics is just a warm-up for the question of the day: should this May’s local elections be postponed or not? Now, obviously this may not seem as gripping as the Stateside dramas, but it does affect where we live.
In the first week of May we are due to hold elections for County Councillors, the Police & Crime Commissioner, any casual vacancies for town and parish councils, and some local referenda on things like Neighbourhood Plans.
Or, to express this more directly, the people who are responsible for your public health policy, adult social care, roads, education, policing, allotments, town halls, and community responses to how you want the place where you live to be planned.
The problem is the pandemic. All of you who have voted will have noticed the many lovely people staffing polling stations, whose numbers are multiplied at the count, and at the daily opening and verification of incoming postal votes. That is before we even consider the eager candidates who are meant to knock on doors, put leaflets through letterboxes and, of course, hold hustings or public meetings.
This year it is wholly implausible that this can be done safely. Campaigning would have to start in March, as the first postal votes go out in early April. Many people will not appreciate a shiny-faced candidate with a rosette coming up their garden path when it is highly likely that most of us still have not completed our vaccinations.
Some say that democracy delayed is democracy denied, which is often true. There is a slightly unappealing push from non-Tory national parties to insist we press on with these elections anyway; they sense blue blood and want to hit the Conservatives when they’re down.
To me, and forgive the pun, this is all trumped by public health and safety. These elections will be best held in the autumn. Our next local Kamala Harris moment will have to wait till then