Today is the election day that never was. Just two months ago, London was getting ready for the Mayoral vote. City Hall’s current occupant, Sadiq Khan was leading the pack, chased by Conservative Shaun Bailey. Behind him in the polls were independent Rory Stewart, Liberal Democrat Siobhan Benita and Green Sian Berry.

On March 13, the Government postponed all local elections for a year. Mr Khan was handed another 12 months in office. Yesterday, Mr Stewart announced his withdrawal from the race – campaigning as an independent in the current circumstances would be impossible, he said. Things have changed very fast.

“It’s not at all what any of us would have expected at the start of the year,” Ms Benita admits. “There is that strangeness and surrealness about it.”

Mr Bailey says he heard the “mood music” from Government before the delay was announced – but the year-long postponement was a surprise. “Once the idea had been floated it happened very quickly,” he says. “But I happen to agree with the decision. I think everyone sees it was the right thing, as important as democracy is.”

Today Mr Bailey answers a Zoom call in his family home, a map of the UK marked with the places he’s taken his children in the background. More time with his family has been a blessing after “a crazy couple of years”, he says. But he’s still busy – speaking to NHS staff, shopkeepers, app developers and youth groups struggling with the impact of the virus.

Ms Benita has been “incredibly busy” too, co-ordinating Liberal Democrat volunteers to call vulnerable people house-bound across the capital. She’s volunteering at Kingston food bank, and has set up a food drop point in her front porch. In between, she’s doing daily virtual exercise classes with her daughters, who are in lockdown elsewhere.

For Ms Berry, today is “a normal work day”. As a London Assembly member, she attended the Assembly’s first virtual committee this morning – though she had to blur the background of her video to hide the pile of recycling and the bins behind her at home.

Like many people, the candidates have found digital working a big part of their lockdown lives – and it’s likely to affect the campaign ahead too. “I think everything is going to be different,” Ms Benita says. “Politics is going to have to change. It’s not unthinkable, even though the election has been postponed for a year, that we might not have a vaccine by then.”

That means less pressing the flesh, less door knocking, less leafleting and fewer public meetings. “Your whole job as a politician is about meeting people and that’s definitely going to change,” Ms Berry says. “When it comes to winning votes you have to speak to lots of people individually – and we’ll have to think differently about how do the normal canvassing.”

Mr Bailey thinks online campaigning will be the new normal. He’s held seven virtual town halls so far in lockdown, and each one has drawn between 60 and 120 people. “It’s crazy scrolling between them all,” he laughs. But people are accepting this new way of working. “Politics had already gone online to a certain extent,” he says. “I think that will increase.”

That new digital dimension could have some benefits – for disabled people or those with children, it can be easier to participate online, Mr Bailey explains. Ms Benita thinks politicians may be able to engage better with young people, and that face-to-face conversations on the internet could reduce trolling and foster more respectful debate.

But there are clear downsides too. Digital exclusion could be a major problem, Ms Berry warns. “It’s about trying to widen access and make sure everyone you’d normally meet if you went out on streets is reached online,” she explains. “It’s going to be a challenge when we start to campaign again.”

Smaller political parties could themselves be excluded in an online sphere. Campaigning on social media means cash – and lots of it. “There’s a digital divide between larger and smaller parties”, Ms Berry says. “We could face a disadvantage if one of the main routes to meeting people isn’t the cheap and free way, standing in the high street, but is controlled by social media companies.”

Ms Benita is more optimistic. “I think that’s the case online or offline,” she argues. “Parties that have the most money always dominate. But whether you’re online or not, you’ve got to be capturing people’s attention. The challenges will be different – but I don’t think it’s going to be harder or less hard just because we’re working more virtually.”

And another year is more time – time to narrow the gap between Mr Khan and the other candidates, if they play their cards right. Given the current crisis, Londoners may have different issues in mind when they head to the polls next May “An extra year will just show how weak the Mayor’s record is,” says Mr Bailey. “What you’ll find is he will hide behind the coronavirus on every measure.”

Mr Khan’s team refute that point. They say the Mayor is doing “everything he can” to keep Londoners safe, and lobbying the Government for support. He’s upped cleaning on the TfL network, and wants face coverings for transport workers, a spokesperson said. Talks with the Government on funding for transport are constructive – and Mr Khan is now attending Cobra meetings, staying informed on the Government’s latest plans as the outbreak continues.

Speaking on LBC radio yesterday, the Mayor said calling off the election was “absolutely the right thing to do” in the circumstances. He’s been focused on coronavirus in the last few weeks, he said – and keeping Londoners safe is his top priority.

But the other candidates have concerns. “No one will thank you for playing Punch and Judy politics at the moment,” says Mr Bailey. “What people want is decisive leadership and solutions.”

“The Mayor’s performance on coronavirus has unfortunately been, to my mind, typical Sadiq – you have to drag him to any action. At this time, people want to see leadership.”

Ms Benita agrees – she wants to be “as constructive as possible” in the crisis. The Mayor’s work to house London’s rough sleepers, and to fund domestic abuse services is welcome, she says.

“But there has always been a lack of urgency coming out of City Hall under Sadiq”, Ms Benita claims. Hand sanitiser at Tube stations, information on the TfL network, safety measures for bus drivers – all these should have come faster, she believes.

Ms Berry also feels more could have been done faster. TfL’s plans to promote walking and cycling when lockdown eases are a step in the right direction, but took “far too long” to implement. “I am concerned that we are playing catch up with other cities,” she adds.

All the candidates agree that London needs a strong voice in this crisis. “I don’t think we’ve had a strong reassuring leader throughout this period,” Ms Benita says. “People look to their Mayor for reassurance in a time like this, and I don’t feel we’ve had that.”

The virus has already struck harder in the capital than anywhere else, and Ms Berry worries London could be vulnerable to a second wave of infection. The crisis has “thrown into relief” the need for more devolution.

“It does worry me that the Government’s lack of attention to detail might mean they make decisions that are harmful to London,” she says. “The Mayor’s role is to speak on behalf of Londoners – and he could have been louder and clearer on that.”

Mr Bailey agrees that clearer leadership feels essential. “Any Mayor has to accept that they lead London and their job is to argue that London is a special case,” he says.

But for now, there’s little time for any of the candidates to think about what could have been – they’re all focused on the problems at hand. “Today doesn’t feel any different,” Mr Bailey reflects. “I’ve been so lost in meetings and ‘have you done your maths homework’ – it’s all been replaced with something else.”