Purdah poses challenges – but it shouldn’t shut us up

It seems like weeks since the general election last year, which resulted in a period of political sensitivity (aka ‘purdah‘) that lasted until well into the summer while the new Government was establishing itself.

Purdah is the term that covers the regulations restricting what can (and mostly can’t) be said and done before an election.  The unusual events that followed last year’s poll meant that many forms of communication were suspended for weeks during the initial negotiations between the coalition partners.

I don’t expect the same will happen with the local elections this year. But I have been surprised at how early some councils have declared purdah underway in their areas. One authority (a hung council) started the shutdown on Monday this week, almost two months in advance of any vote being cast.

When purdah starts will depend on the council, and how close the election is expected to be. This adds a further shade of grey to an already murky area of communications. However, most councils with local elections will be in purdah by the end of next week – and you can check which authorities are going to the polls here.

For the HCA, this means some activity including media relations, photocalls and speaking engagements that involve local authorities will need to be carefully considered. It should not mean, however, that public bodies simply stop communicating completely during the election period.

There will still be a need to provide factual information about public services, attend meetings, speak at events, answer questions and maintain a ‘business as usual’ approach. The crucial factor in assessing which activity to progress during an election period is perception: if there is a chance that an announcement or event will be seen as favouring one political party, then it probably should be avoided.

That still leaves plenty of things that could – and should – be done. I’ll certainly be kept pretty busy over the next few weeks anyway.

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