What is election Purdah and why does it exist?

General Elections in the UK are strictly regulated. For example, there are restrictions on spending, with each campaign able to spend a limited amount depending on the number of candidates they are putting forward. These rules and regulations are set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) and are monitored and enforced by the Electoral Commission, an independent body that exists to ensure elections are transparent and fair.

Another important part of the election process in the UK is the existence of a period of Purdah. This means that during the official election campaign (which by law must last for at least six weeks) certain rules are put in place to ensure the Government is not able to take advantage of its incumbency. For example:

⁃ The Government are expected not to enact any new initiatives that might well be considered to be of political benefit to them.

⁃ Public funds cannot be used for any form of political campaigning.

⁃ Civil Servants must not answer questions about the potential implementation of party manifestos.

⁃ The Civil Service (who are required to be politically impartial anyway) monitor and ensure they Purdah is enforced throughout the different Government departments.

Civil Servants, like Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill, are expected to enforce Purdah across the Government.

Last week the Government announced that the Benefits Freeze (the freeze on the amount paid for different welfare claimants) would end in 2020. Announcing this clearly may have a positive influence on the electoral prospects of the Conservatives. It is a good example, therefore, of something that could not have been announced after the 6th November when

Purdah does not end automatically following an election, instead it ends when a Government is formed. This is important in the event of there being a ‘hung parliament’ and different parties considering options for coalition. This was evident in 2010 when the Conservatives were the largest party but did not have a majority. Gordon Brown therefore remained a temporary Prime Minister until a Government could be formed. Insiders to the Brown camp after the 2010 election describe him as being desperate to do something proactive, but being reminded by the Civil Service of his responsibilities under Purdah. On this occasion, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrat’s agreed a Coalition Agreement and ended up in Coalition Government for five years.