Wednesday, October 27News That Matters

‘Unpredictable’: High stakes in local elections turned upside down by COVID

While local elections may not seem like the most exciting political moment, they are an important way of knowing how well national parties are doing with voters. 

This time around the stakes are high for all involved.

Labour has a new leader who needs to make an impact, the Conservatives are hoping the vaccine bounce will translate into votes, and the smaller parties need to show they’re still relevant.

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Labour's Steve Reed, shadow communities and local government secretary
Image: Labour’s Steve Reed admitted nothing can replace face-to-face campaigning

But the world has been turned on its head over the last year and the pandemic has meant that campaigners haven’t been able to get out and persuade as many voters as they usually would to back whatever party they support.

COVID has also meant parties can’t collect the same data in the same way they usually do.

Instead of knocking on doors to record how each household might vote, they’ve had to rely on phones instead and as Labour’s Steve Reed told Sky News, “we’ve been doing a lot more telephoning but of course you don’t have every voter’s telephone number”.

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He admitted nothing can replace the face-to-face campaigning.

As a result, parties are being even more cautious than usual about their prospects, with Conservative co-chair Amanda Milling warning the elections will be “difficult” for Boris Johnson’s party.

She said the rise of independent groups, more prevalent thanks to the community spirit fostered during lockdown, have also made the result tricky to predict.

Conservative Party chair Amanda Milling
Image: Conservative Party co-chair Amanda Milling said the elections will be ‘difficult’ for the party

“We have seen a number of different independent groups but we are seeing them pop up across the country and it will make it more complicated… you start to split votes in different directions and it makes it really unpredictable”, she said.

On a practical level the COVID-19 pandemic has meant campaigners have to think differently too – they can’t gather at local constituency offices anymore, instead setting up leafleting hubs in the back of cars to maintain social distancing.

Masks must be warn when talking to someone on the doorstep and Liberal Democrat Chris White, a glasses wearer, says the fogging up of his lenses has become an ice-breaker, rather than an annoyance.

Lib Dem Chris White speaks to Sky's Kate McCann on the campaign trail in St Albans
Image: Lib Dem Chris White speaks to Sky’s Kate McCann on the campaign trail in St Albans

Speaking on the campaign trail in St Albans he told Sky News: “People are really pleased to see us, in some cases we may be the first people they’ve seen since they last spoke to a delivery driver so we’ve made their lives more interesting!”

However he added that some of the changes have been less welcome: “It would be nice occasionally to go to the pub after a canvassing session,” he said.