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Election Purdah

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Andrew Smith | 00:00 AM, Tuesday, 27 April 2010

If you think there's too much coverage of the General Election campaign - there may be a very good reason for that. If the experience of You and Yours is anything to go by, every public organisation involved in UK public life has gone into election "purdah."

Among the bodies which have either cited purdah or something less specific like wishing to avoid raising political hackles as a reason for not appearing on the programme in the last week or so are the Food Standards Agency, National Fraud Authority, Office of Fair Trading, Consumer Focus and the Health and Safety Executive.

The guidelines governing election purdah are drawn up by the Cabinet Office and they're designed to prevent civil servants becoming involved in the political hoo-hah that is a General Election.

The general principle in "communication activities" is "to do everything possible to avoid competition with Parliamentary candidates for the attention of the public." (p24) Staff are required to confine themselves to "factual explanation of current Government policy, statements and decisions" and avoid becoming "involved in a partisan way." ( also p24)

Interestingly the rules don't only apply to Government departments but to non-departmental public bodies and other "arms length" public sector organisations. (p 49)

Some journalists would like to extend purdah even further. Have a look at Ed West's blog.

The frustrating thing is, the stories we've found difficult to persuade interviewees to talk about are hardly the stuff which will determine the 2010 General Election. They include calorie counts on menus, first aid training rules, credit card regulations, the efficiency (or otherwise) of the National Fraud Reporting Centre and a new code of conduct designed to protect homebuyers. But equally it's hard to think of a story which doesn't have the potential to become controversial - especially in the heat of a tight-fought campaign.

So the press officers say "No" and all we can do is grin and bear it. And wait for May 7th.

Andrew Smith is the Editor of You and Yours, In Touch, Fact the Facts and The Media Show on BBC Radio 4.


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