Local elections: Shropshire heads to the polls as battle for votes begins on Super Thursday

The pandemic had thrown them into doubt but today the people of Shropshire were going to the polls in the first post-Covid elections.

Across the county, votes will be cast in a host of separate elections, all coming against the backdrop of the most testing 12 months since the Second World War.

The pandemic had raised serious questions over whether the local elections would take place, but with the country emerging from its third lockdown the polls will be open – albeit with social distancing and Covid measures in place.

Shropshire Council's entire 74 seats are up for re-election, with the Conservatives looking to continue control of the authority they have run since it was set up in 2009.

The voters will also decide on the next police and crime commissioners for West Mercia and Mid Wales.

The Welsh Government elections also take place, coming against the backdrop of renewed focus on the influence of the Welsh Government, with the impact of differing lockdown rules on Mid Wales residents and border communities.

Guide to 2021 elections

Telford will see two by-elections, in Dawley and Donnington, with the full council elections having taken place in 2019.

While the focus will be on the major moves, there are also a host of town and rural parish council elections, including Shropshire's major towns.

Given the unprecedented background to the election, questions marks have been thrown up as to the potential impact of national politics on a local level.

Impact

While the issues at stake in today's election are local, the all-consuming impact of the last year – and the dominance of national government over local issues throughout the pandemic, could play a major part in decision making as people cast their votes.

The three main parties vying for Shropshire Council seats have all spoken of the unusual run-up to the vote, with restrictions on canvassing and meetings preventing what would have been seen as traditional campaigning.

Shropshire Council’s current Conservative leader, Peter Nutting, who will be hoping his party continues its control of the authority it has run since the council was set up in 2009, said that it had been an election unlike anything that has come before.

He said: “It has been crazy. It is not a normal election. Getting to people on the door step has been extremely difficult and we have been very concious in trying to avoid contact. We have been ultra-cautious.”

Lib Dem leader Roger Evans bemoaned the difficulties in being able to get out and meet the public, while Labour leader Alan Mosley said the situation had limited the number of people candidates have been able to talk to.

Councillor Evans said: “It is a one-off and the restrictions that have been placed on knocking on doors, canvassing, and having meetings has been very difficult.”

Whatever the result the incoming council will be faced with major decisions on the immediate horizon.

None more so than the move out of Shirehall and into Shrewsbury’s town centre – a plan already agreed by the authority.

Critics

The North West Relief Road also looms large, with the current administration full-steam behind the project, which has attracted critics from within Shrewsbury and further afield.

In Montgomeryshire Conservative candidate for the Welsh Government Russell George welcomed Home Secretary Priti Patel to Welshpool in a last minute push for votes.

Mr George said the focus on the Welsh Government throughout the pandemic could lead to renewed interest in the election, with more people understanding the influence of the Senedd.

He said: "There has never been an election like it before and from a Senedd point of view the pandemic has illustrated to people that a lot of the decisions that affect their daily lives are made in the Senedd."

Mr George said that seeing the Welsh Government's ability to dictate the rules over families, social interaction and businesses throughout the pandemic, could mean more people seeing the importance of the elections.

He said: "They are such significant rules that it may make people realise the power of the Welsh parliament and in many ways hopefully will see a higher turnout because people realise the impact the Senedd has."

Today's votes will be the first electoral test of the effect of successive lockdowns, the vaccination rollout and the way in which the government and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has handled the pandemic.

Andy Street and Boris Johnson cycle along the canal in Stourbridge

Mr Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel were both yesterday making a final push for votes in the region.

The Prime Minister landed at Halfpenny Green Airport on the Shropshire border to throw his weight behind the campaign for the West Midlands Mayoral Election, while Mrs Patel was in Welshpool to back Jon Burns’ bid for the position of Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner in Dyfed-Powys, before travelling on to Pecknall farm, Alberbury.

Home Secretary Priti Patel in Welshpool with Craig Williams MP and Jon Burns, Tory candidate for the position of Dyfed Powys Police and Crime Commissioner in Dyfed-Powys

There will be differences for voters at the polling stations too – with hand sanitiser on the way in, a requirement to wear masks and take your own pen or pencil.

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