John Greenshields, Associate Director gives his view on the London pre-election period and what it means in 2022.
Today is the day. The pre-election period formally begins today (if it hasn’t already for some more sensitive councils), with 1817 seats up for grabs and five directly elected Mayoralties. Boundaries have been changed, old faces have been replaced by new and a lot of leaders will be hoping for a calmer, more productive administration than the 2018-2022 term delivered.
But, before the final votes are cast and the votes begin to be counted, what happens in the 32 London Boroughs? What can they do in this Pre-election Period – formally Purdah – and more importantly what will they do? Some boroughs have planning committees planned for the following weeks – some had them planned but scrapped them. Certainly the first week in April is going to be busy one for Kanda with consents targeted across London before Easter.
Firstly, the business of the council remains. All boroughs remain able (and required) to make decisions to keep things ticking over: from parking to pensioners the services don’t stop for an election. What Local Authorities need to be mindful of is spending or allocating resources on candidates, individuals or groups who may use these resources to influence the views of voters. Social media has become a key battleground for this, with Leaders and Mayors (Civic and elected) having distinct online presences. The line here is blurry.
What Councils choose to do is another matter. Most planning committee agendas are light in the run up to May, with big decisions placed on hold until the clearer skies of June and July. This is not an unreasonable approach; in my experience candidates are tired, sensitive and fixated on both the process and the outcome of the local elections, why would officers want to add to this stress with a decision which could be tricky?
As a former Labour Party Campaign Manager there are two key dates that I look out for: the Pre-election period (when it starts to get real) and the Notice of Poll on April 4th. This is the deadline for candidates registering to stand in a ward, and lets everyone know who is serious about the election and who is going through the motions. Talk of ‘paper candidates’ will pop up, with incumbents keen to dismiss any rivals as such.
These are unprecedented local elections. London has been a heavily remain voting city, but how many of these people voted to leave with their belongings – and votes – when the pandemic hit and moved out of the capital? Will the boundary changes in 25 of the 32 boroughs generate some unpredicted results? How will national events such as war in the Ukraine, the cost of living crisis and a possible police caution for the Prime Minister affect the mood of the electorate?
We will be looking ahead to how the campaigns are going and picking up key themes from across the boroughs closer the election, but with the race formally starting today, all eyes turn to April 4th and a busy few weeks of committees at the end of this administration.