As coronavirus fever first gripped the country, and as the government prepared to enact emergency laws to postpone all public elections, one solitary local council by-election took place on Thursday 19 March 2020, for the Upper Stoke ward of Coventry City Council. Other by-elections had been scheduled for that day, but called off unilaterally by their returning officers, and no further by-elections are likely to take place anywhere in the UK for the foreseeable future.
Gurdev Singh Hayre (Labour) won the Upper Stoke ward with 639 votes, out of 1214 who cast ballots, 651 of whom were postal voters. A shockingly low turnout of 9.02%.
Surely this pandemic-affected turnout must be a record low for recent public elections? Apparently not, commentators concluded – there was another council by-election, in 2016, where the turnout had been even lower, 7.12%, and the winning candidate had been returned with just 98 votes. Where could that have been?
You’ve guessed it. The University & Scotforth Rural by-election for Lancaster City Council (see subtext 156), held on 8 December 2016, continues to defeat all comers in the apathy stakes. It’s comforting to know that even the fear of catching COVID-19 has nothing on our students’ tendency to avoid the polls on a cold day.