Government set to make it easier to stand in English council elections

For the May 2021 local elections in England, the government temporarily changed the law so that council candidates only had to get two, rather than ten, nomination signatures to stand. This was in line with what’s already the norm in Scotland, but was only a temporary measure to reduce the need for signature gathering during a COVID-19 crunch.

Could the Tories be finding it difficult to muster 10 signatures for a candidate? With current poll ratings that seems quite possible for the pariah party. – Owl

Mark Pack www.markpack.org.uk

The rules then reverted to normal, but now the government has consulted the Electoral Commission on draft legislation that would permanently reduce the number of subscribers required on a nomination paper for principal area elections in England from ten to two.

Under this plan, the change would come into effect for elections and by-elections on or after 4 May 2023, i.e. including the normal May 2023 local elections.

As well as being good for democracy in general, this would also be beneficial for the Liberal Democrats, given the importance of upping our candidate numbers.

As I’ve written on that topic before:

There are … huge benefits [to the party] in standing even in wards that we are not likely to win for a very long time yet (if ever).

One set of benefits comes from the opportunity to practice, train and learn. Winning elections isn’t easy and some of the skills required are very hard to pick up outside politics.

So we should be using every opportunity to add to our experience, try out things and get better.

Even if we don’t do very much, or any, campaigning, there is still the chance for a new election agent to practice getting the paperwork right. Or to take a new person out on their very first canvassing session. Steps such as those are if anything easier in a ‘no hope’ by-election as the pressure is much less and so you can concentrate on the learning.

Those benefits are specific to by-elections on their own. There are other benefits too, which apply even if you’ve got other elections on the same day – and to non-target wards in the usual run of elections…

One of the biggest challenges the Liberal Democrats face is to build up a large group of loyal supporters who persistently support us. Our core support is much smaller than that of our main rivals – and we suffer for it. It makes us more vulnerable to bad times. It means we have further to go and harder to work to get to the winning post than rival parties with larger core votes.

Yet the one sure way to ensure people don’t become persistent supporters is to insist that they should not be allowed to vote for us thanks to not putting up a candidate. No Liberal Democrat on the ballot paper means us saying to voters: ‘we refuse to let you be loyal supporters of us’.

Standing also helps the party identify better where its support currently is, and isn’t. Having a full slate of candidates across the board helps spot areas that can be promising to target and try to win in the future.

Although the legal change isn’t yet 100% confirmed, it’s very likely. So if you have local elections next May, now is a great time to be planning how to either stand a full slate or, if we’ve not managed that before, our best-ever tally of candidates.

Remember too that if we don’t make good use of this opportunity, others may do so – and so may use it to sideline the Lib Dems in the eyes of local voters unless we match or beat their candidate numbers.

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