Stop! It’s ‘purdah’ time

Purdah, a word that is likely to be unknown to many of the voters that will [possibly] swamp polling stations on 7 May, plays an essential part in what the public will hear from their politicians as election day approaches.

While the political campaigning for this year's General Election may feel as though it started five years ago, the ball only really starts rolling with the Dissolution of Parliament on the 30 March. In the past, the purdah period commenced when the Prime Minister officially announced the election to the nation but, as we now have fixed-term parliaments, the period is likely to always coincide with the Dissolution of Parliament.

So what should we expect? It is essentially the time when government ministers scribble down their handover sheets before hurling them at the nearest senior civil servant and rushing out of the door to spend the next six weeks smiling politely in awkward situations. The day-to-day business of the Government and local authorities will continue, but without any major policy announcements or new initiatives.

The purdah influence stretches further than MPs, councillors and civil servants. Academics who receive funding from the Economic and Social Research Council are subject to purdah restrictions, sparking a debate over whether the guidance infringes on academic freedom. The police, while seen as impartial, also have to adhere to purdah guidance, especially with the advent of Police and Crime Commissioners.

It has been alleged that senior elected officials in councils can even use the purdah period to their advantage – for example, preventing ward members, who are up for election, from attending planning committee meetings regarding developments in their ward.

With the advent of online media, social media and 24-hour news coverage, it is possible to argue that the purdah period is out of date as there are now many ways for elected officials and, more importantly, other political parties to get their message across to the public the equivalent Hatch Act in the United States, for example, has far fewer restrictions regarding what officials can say in communication during the pre-election period.

Whether the purdah period is relevant in the 21st Century or not, it will be with us for this year's elections and should be considered by those wishing to consult with any politician or civil servant during this period. If you would like any more information, please contact our Manchester Office on 0161 359 4100.

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