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13 March 2020

The local elections will take place at an unprecedented scale in a completely different UK

The postponed local elections will now be the UK's biggest ever, after a period that will change British politics in a radical and unpredictable way.

By Stephen Bush

The 2020 local and mayoral elections will be postponed until May of next year following advice from the Electoral Commission. The political consequences are unknowable because the economic and social consequences of the coronavirus outbreak are unknowable. The one thing we can say with certainty, from a political perspective, is that “things will be very different this time next year”. British politics and culture may well be forever changed, or at least changed for the foreseeable future by the events of the year to come.

But the important logistical change is that the 2021 local elections will be a contest of near-unprecedented scale for an off-year. Thanks to the combination of the Scottish and Welsh parliamentary elections, the metro-mayoral elections, the combined authority semi-rural mayoral elections, the police and crime commissioner elections,  essentially everyone in the United Kingdom will have a ballot of some kind – which to my knowledge has never happened before.

That will be a big logistical challenge for the new leaders of Labour and the Liberal Democrats, whoever emerges from those party’s contests. On the Labour side in particular, Keir Starmer’s inner circle believes that its number one priority, should he win, is not political but organisational – both to address and respond to the Equality and Human Right Commission’s report into anti-Semitism but also to get the party “match fit” again. Starmer’s allies are concerned that Labour has lost huge amounts of institutional memory, both over the past five years and in recent months, and think that unless the party is able to become vastly more professional and well-organised, nothing else they try to do will come off.

Next year was always going to be the first real test of the post-Corbyn party’s political appeal. The level of logistical challenge means that it is now going to be a real test of competence too.

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