Elections 2021: Key battles, how to vote and the impact of Covid on polling

By ITV News Westminster Producer Lewis Denison

On Thursday the British people will deliver their verdict on the government in a vote for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the UK.

The 2021 elections, being played out across England, Scotland and Wales, are likely to have an enormous impact no matter what the results are.

Key battles are being held for Scottish and Welsh Parliament seats, mayoral roles, councillor positions, and even a seat in the House of Commons is up for grabs.

Here's everything you need to know about the 2021 'Super Thursday' elections:

How and when to vote:

Election day is Thursday, May 6, with polling stations set to open from 7am to 10pm.

It is now too late to vote via post, so if you intend to participate in the elections you must attend your local polling station.

Around 48 million people are eligible to vote - if you're registered you should have received a polling card through the post, though you do not need this nor anything else to vote.

You'll be given a ballot paper at the polling station, which will explain exactly what you must do.

You'll choose your candidate from a list of names, and depending on the election you may be asked to select more than one candidate, or rank in order of preference.

What coronavirus measures are in place?

All restrictions and advice in respective nations must continue to be followed on election day, meaning people will be expected to socially distance and wear face masks while participating.

Coronavirus will make things a bit different this year, as they were in May's Assam state assembly election in Gauhati, India. Credit: PA

Polling stations will also have their own coronavirus measures in place, such as one-way systems, plastic screens and hand sanitisers.

While much of the above is to be expected, perhaps the most surprising difference to other years is that voters are being asked to bring their own pens.

If you've been told to self-isolate you will be able to request a proxy vote up until 5pm on polling day.

A number of local, mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections which were cancelled last year due to the Covid-19 have been rescheduled to take place the same time as this year's.

What exactly is being contested?

Thousands of elected positions are being fought for across the UK, but not in Northern Ireland.

Around 5,000 council seats are being contested in England in 143 councils.

There are 60 seats in the Welsh Parliament up for grabs - this will be the first time in which 16 and 17 year olds can vote for a member of the Senedd Cymru.

In the Scottish Parliament 129 seats are being contested.

There are 13 mayoral battles, including the fight for mayor of London between Labour's Sadiq Khan and Conservative Shaun Bailey.

In the capital Londoners will also vote for 25 members of the London Assembly.

Voters in England and Wales will also elect 39 police and crime commissioners (PCCs) - it will be the third election since their creation in 2011.

Plus a single seat in the House of Commons is being contested in the Hartlepool by-election, which was triggered after Labour MP Mike Hill stood down in March.

What are the key battles?

  • Hartlepool

Demonstrated by the appearance of both Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer in Teesside, the election they both really want to win is Hartlepool.

A win for the Conservatives in the north-eastern seat will prove Labour's "Tory sleaze" attacks have not had an impact.

If Labour loses Hartlepool it will show Sir Keir still has a mountain to climb before the 2024 general election.

Sir Keir Starmer will learn whether his numerous attacks on Boris Johnson at PMQs over 'Tory sleaze' have had an impact. Credit: Parliament

Those on the left of Labour will question the direction Sir Keir has taken the party, given his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn retained the seat both in 2019 and 2017.

Much more is on the line for Labour: if the PM can win Hartlepool it will be vindication of his coronavirus strategy, if he loses it won't damage the Tories by much, given they have never won the seat since it was created in 1974.

  • Scotland

The result of this election has the potential to have by far the most impact, with Nicola Sturgeon saying a win for her SNP, which currently seems likely, would provide a mandate for another referendum on Scottish independence.

Two familiar Scottish names are also hoping to have an impact on the race - former SNP leader Alex Salmond and ex Labour MP George Galloway - who have both created parties hoping to either secure an independence referendum or block one.

Mr Salmond's pro-independence Alba Party and Mr Galloway's pro-union All for Unity have comparatively low support, but Scotland's additional member voting system means both leaders could win a seat.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats led by Willie Rennie will be hoping it can hold onto its five MSPs.

This election will also be a first opportunity for voters to deliver their verdicts on two new leaders in Scotland, Anas Sarwar for Labour and Douglas Ross for the Conservatives.

  • London

Prime Minister Johnson is the only Conservative to have been elected Mayor of London and judging by current polling, that does not look set to change.

It's been a tough few years for Mayor Sadiq Khan, with soaring knife crime rates one of many sources of criticism, but he looks set to brush away this year's competition.

Shaun Bailey is hoping he can inflict damaging blows to Sadiq Khan's campaign, but has so far been apparently unsuccessful. Credit: PA

In what many consider a Labour stronghold, Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey has a mountain to climb and is trailing massively in the polls.

The competition's numerous wildcards also look set to have little impact, but its worth naming some of them anyway (a full list of the 20 candidates and what they stand for can be found here).

- Actor Laurence Fox has created the Reclaim Party

- Podcaster Brian Rose, leader of the London Real Party

- Youtuber Niko Omilana

- Serial election participant Count Binface

- Green Party co-leader Sian Berry

- Jeremy Corbyn's brother Piers Corbyn

- Peter Gammons of UKIP

- Liberal Democrat Luisa Porritt

Does coronavirus mean results will take longer?

Keeping polling stations and counting centres Covid-secure will mean it takes longer this year for the results to come in.

A number of results could be in before you wake up on Friday morning, such as the Hartlepool by-election.

Welsh results could be in by Friday afternoon, while many winners in Scotland, England and Wales may not be announced until Saturday.

It could be as late as Monday before the results of the police and crime commissioner results are in.

Who will win - and why?

Opposition parties usually hope to make significant gains at local elections, but polling suggests Labour will do well to keep hold of the few power positions it currently has.

It will take longer this year to count votes, due to coronavirus. Credit: PA

Local elections are often a mid-term opportunity for voters to voice their discontent with the government of the day and given the UK's high number of coronavirus deaths, Labour would have hoped it could take this chance to regain a number of the heartlands it lost in 2019.

Whether it is the so-called vaccine boost (people's satisfaction at the UK's high immunisation rates) or Sir Keir's apparent inability to land any damaging blows on the government, the party doesn't appear to have much chance of success.

If the Conservatives take more seats in the North and the Midlands, the government would view that as approval of its "levelling up" agenda and would use it as a defence to allegations of sleaze that have been dogging the prime minister.

Sir Keir said this electoral test is part of the journey he's taking toward the 2024 general election and he will take "full responsibility for the results".