No politics, please. A guide to election purdah | Jane Dudman

Now Theresa May has called a general election, parliament will be dissolved and purdah will come into force for civil servants.
Now Theresa May has called a general election, parliament will be dissolved and purdah will come into force for civil servants. Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

If you’re one of the UK’s 400,000 civil servants, you will already know not to tell anyone who you’re going to vote for in the June general election.

Once parliament has been dissolved, on 2 or 3 May, civil servants enter the pre-election six-week period known as purdah, when what they do is restricted. Guidance is published by the Cabinet Office.

Pre-election restrictions for local government are governed by the Local Government Act, which says councils should “not publish any material which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party”.

While the everyday business of central and local government continues in the run-up to the elections, all staff must be scrupulous in the purdah period to ensure that public resources are not used for party political purposes and must not undertake any activity that could call into question their political impartiality. The rules apply to all communications, including social media.

Some local government officers and civil servants are already in purdah because of the local elections and mayoral elections taking place on 4 May. The new purdah restrictions ahead of the general election will run through to the general election on 8 June.

For those not already in purdah, the “washup” period between the general election being announced and the purdah rules kicking in at the start of May will be a busy couple of weeks, according to Catherine Haddon, fellow of the Institute for Government thinktank, who has written an excellent countdown to the 2017 election.

Haddon points out that many of the 15 bills now going through parliament may have to be put on hold, and that the Commons select committees, which carry out a lot of scrutiny of government business, will have to elect new chairs after the election.

Most civil servants and local government officers work on delivery, rather than policy; for them, life continues pretty much as usual. But for some officials, particularly those working on strategy or policy, purdah can be a welcome chance to take a step back and do a bit of deeper thinking. One former civil servant says purdah can be an opportunity to reconsider projects that might otherwise end up on a back burner. “It’s a thinking space, when you can talk to more people and do some really high-quality work, ready to go after the election is over.”

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