THE REAL BATTLE BEGINS AS PARLIAMENT DISSOLVES
Posted By Andy Smith
Although it feels like we’ve been in the middle of the General Election campaign for months, only today does it officially begin.
At midnight last night, Parliament was officially dissolved under the Fixed Terms Parliament Act 2011. This means that all 650 seats in the House of Commons become vacant and MPs revert back to being members of the public, losing all privileges that go with their positions in the process.
By law, Parliament is required to dissolve 25 working days before the election, following which the Prime Minister travels to Buckingham Palace to request the Queen’s permission to call a General Election.
So far, campaign trails have been full of the four Ps – promises, pledges, policies and PR. The use of televised leadership debates, social media and direct engagement with the public has led to this year’s campaign dubbed as ‘the first integrated General Election campaign’ of all time. However, the start of purdah is sure to put an end to that.
Purdah is the time immediately before an election when civil servants are prevented from promoting government activity to avoid unfairly influencing votes. However, with a little over five weeks to go until the 7 May poll, this restricted communication can be a challenge for professionals in what could be described as the most important time of their campaign.
This begs the question of how campaigning parties can continue to get their message across, while their communication arms are tied. In my eyes, with even Twitter out of bounds for everything other than publishing factual information, the next best thing for them to do is to rely on brand ambassadors to carry their messages forward.
For some high profile departments, such as the Department of Transport and the Department for Education, it’s harder for them to pull the veil down on their activity for a whole month, but the Propriety and Ethics Team at the Cabinet Office sets out clear guidelines on what is and isn’t acceptable in this period.
Many departments will no doubt still try to bend the rules to push an idea through, apologising for their actions afterwards. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how civil servants, such as former MPs, continue to promote their key messages to the general public in the coming weeks.