Polling station
A court order or a change of law will be needed to postpone the by-election

The by-election to replace disgraced councillor Tonia Ashikodi remains on despite the coronavirus outbreak – and will need a court order or act of parliament to stop it, Greenwich Council’s elections boss said last night.

James Pack, the borough’s head of electoral services, told councillors that as the writ for the Glyndon ward by-election, due to be held on Thursday 9 April, had already been moved, there was currently no way in law to stop it.

He spoke to councillors on the corporate finance scrutiny panel just a few hours after the Electoral Commission advised the government to postpone elections – including the London mayoral and assembly poll – that are currently scheduled for Thursday 7 May.

The by-election in Glyndon ward, which covers parts of Plumstead and Thamesmead, was called after Ashikodi resigned following her being given a two-year suspended sentence for housing fraud. 853 understands that former Bexley councillor Sandra Bauer has been selected for Labour.

Stewart Christie, who stood in the ward for the Plumstead Party in 2018, returns as the Liberal Democrat candidate. The Plumstead Party was deregistered last November, Electoral Commission records show. Leonie Barron has been picked for the Greens.

Nominations for the by-election close at 4pm today, with candidates expected to be confirmed on the Greenwich Council website shortly afterwards.

Asked by Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher about forthcoming elections and the Covid-19 outbreak, Pack noted that the commission’s letter to ministers also mentioned by-elections.

“Currently by-elections have to run as they are, the nominations close tomorrow at 4pm and I will table those nominations. Until such time as I hear otherwise, that’s the case,” he said.

“In my view, and I defer to the head of legal, there is no way in electoral law to stop an election. The decision is made by an independent returning officer, but there is no method to stop an election once it has started. And it has started, so it needs legislation or a court order to do that.”

Labour councillor Mehboob Khan raised the London mayoral and assembly election, and Pack noted that he would need to call on 700 staff to run the election in Greenwich borough.

“If large numbers of people are affected by a virus, then that affects my ability to deliver the election,” he said.

“It’d affect my contractors – the printers who print all the material. Me and my core team might be struck down. But if we’re required to do so, we’ll battle through with it until and unless something else happens.”

Asked how risks to the integrity of the election could be mitigated, Pack said more training could be offered to council staff to enable them to volunteer to run polling stations, and pointed out that a relatively small number of Greenwich staff would be sent to the GLA count, which is done electronically at the Excel centre in the Royal Docks.

“We only send about 35 people to that count, as it is led by Lewisham [Council], as we are a single constituency. My colleague at Lewisham and I have spoken over the phone about the issues.

“Unfortunately, a lot of them are risks and there is not much I can do in mitigation. A lot of my polling stations are schools and community centres and there will be pressure to close those buildings if there’s a peak of coronavirus around election week.”

Yesterday Greenwich Council postponed its civic awards and moved its Better Together consultation events online as a result of the spread of Covid-19. Both Queen Elizabeth and Lewisham hospitals have restricted visitor numbers to one per patient, with a ban on children visiting.

1pm update: Green candidate added to story.


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