Parliament was dissolved yesterday and we are thus in the period known as purdah. There are no MPs. However, as I have pointed out in response to a question from Carl.H, ministers continue as ministers. Parliament has been dissolved but Her Majesty’s Government has not. However, as there is an election, ministers have to distinguish clearly between ministerial and partisan activity. Civil servants can assist with the former but not the latter.
This creates some delicate issues for civil servants. They can provide factual information to the governing party, and indeed other politicians, but have to be careful not to undertake activity that may appear to assist a particular party. Ministers have to be wary of taking policy decisions on which an incoming government may wish to take a view, possibly a contrary one. There is also the issue of how to respond to constituency correspondence forwarded by MPs once the period of purdah has commenced.
Given the scale and delicacy of the issue, the Cabinet Office provides guidance to civil servants. Its General Election Guidance 2010 runs to 49 pages. It covers not only the position of ministers but also the relationship of officials with the press and other bodies, including devolved administrations. The principles and conventions contained in it apply not only to Government Departments but to all non-departmental public bodies.
I appreciate that members of the public may not be rushing out to read copies of the guidance, but I thought it may be of interest to the informed readers of this blog.