British government postpones London municipal elections by one year

London mayor Sadiq Khan will remain in office for another year.
London mayor Sadiq Khan will remain in office for another year. Stefan Rousseau / AP

The Johnson government is still resisting school closings, but Downing Street said on Friday March 13 that local elections on May 7 would be postponed until next year due to the coronavirus. The ballot was for the renewal of 118 local councils, the London Assembly (a kind of city council) and seven mayors of cities in the country, including London. Sadiq Khan, the Labor mayor of the British capital since 2016, should therefore remain at his post for another year.

Khan officially launched his campaign in early March, planning to fight the London housing crisis by promising, if re-elected for a second term, to campaign for rent control. Favorite in the polls, he was about to face two strong opponents: the conservative Shaun Bailey, who planned to attack him on his poor record in the fight against knife crimes. And Rory Stewart, a former Conservative minister in the May government, sidelined for opposing last fall's strategy by Boris Johnson's hard-liners for a no deal Brexit.

"I will continue to work with government and experts to help London overcome the coronavirus in the weeks and months to come. I will always do everything in my power to defend London ”, reacted Mr. Khan on Twitter Friday. “London needs change but it is normal for the government to put public health first and postpone the elections. I’m going to spend the next year working twenty-four hours a day so that Sadik Khan can only serve one term. " tweeted Shaun Bailey.

"Minimize the risks for voters"

Downing Street’s decision was largely unconventional on Friday evening, the government said it feared the polls would fall at the height of the epidemic. For Johnson's chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance, this peak could happen "Within ten to fourteen weeks", that is to say in the heart of spring. Already on Thursday, the electoral commission, an independent body, had recommended to the government to reconsider the poll: the candidates would not have been able to run a campaign in good conditions, and the populations might not be very receptive to their arguments. "We welcome the British government's decision to postpone the May elections, reacted the commission in a press release published Friday. This will allow the authorities to focus their efforts on essential public services, and minimize the risks for voters, activists and candidates. "

London had 136 confirmed cases of Covid-19 contamination on Friday, for a total of 798 cases across the UK (and 11 deaths, including a first in Scotland). The capital is still spinning, but more and more slowly. Subways are less crowded during rush hour – a driver of the Tube was also tested positive for the first time on Friday – road traffic is slightly less dense, and campuses have announced the switch to online courses.

The London Marathon, scheduled for late April, has also been postponed (to October 4, 2020), and Buckingham Palace has reported that the queen, 94 on April 21, is canceling a series of engagements scheduled for the coming days. In addition, as of Monday March 16, visitors will no longer be allowed to enter Westminster, but Parliament, the central institution of British democracy, will remain in operation – until further notice.

On the contrary, shouldn't everything be closed without waiting, Parliament, schools, non-essential businesses, beyond these half-measures? The controversy has continued to swell in recent hours, as the United Kingdom continues to distinguish itself from an increasingly long list of European countries adopting radical measures of social distancing. Vallance explained the government's strategy on Friday.

It consists in betting on the acquisition of a "Collective immunity", as the British population becomes infected (and mostly develops a mild form of the coronavirus). A strategy "Dangerous", said Devi Sridhar, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, quoted by The Guardian. As of Friday evening, Downing Street seemed to back away from criticism: the government should ban rallies from next week.


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