Public Relations


Understanding 'purdah'

May 2024

Reading time: 3 minute(s).

The announcement of a general election triggers the usual downpour of political buzzwords that will feature prominently in news reports from now until July 4.

Bellwether, greenwashing, neoliberal, swing – the list goes on. But no bingo card of political phrases would be complete without ‘purdah’.

Many people have heard of it, some know what it means, and yet it always seems to send everyone into a panic about the rules. 

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Many people have heard of it, some know what it means, and yet it always seems to send everyone into a panic about the rules. For most of us, there is very little to be concerned about during this period of pre-election heightened sensitivity, but anyone working in the comms sphere will still double-check themselves around activity involving councils or parliamentary candidates.

So, what is purdah?

In its simplest terms, it means that public money and departmental resources cannot be used to favour party political purposes. The rules governing election spend are very clear to create a level playing field, and no-one can be seen to be given a greater advantage over their opponents.

It is worth remembering that purdah has no basis in law; it is a commonly held convention and is open to interpretation. There are no specific penalties for being perceived to have broken purdah. It is essentially there to ensure we all behave in a very British way and aren’t seen to favour either party.

And how can it affect us?

The chances are it won’t. But being aware of its guidelines is helpful when working with local councils or those standing for election. 

For instance, if you’re working on a publication during this period and approach the local council for some generic information about the area, it will have no bearing on purdah as there will be nothing that could influence the election result. 

However, that same council’s staff shouldn’t tell you about a planned development that will go ahead if the Tories are brought back to power. That could be seen to be pushing the Tories’ agenda and encouraging the voters to choose them. 

Are you planning a press release where you would normally speak to your local council leader for a quote? Beware. He may be standing for election. On this occasion, you’d be advised to speak to a council officer and make sure their comment has no political bias. 

And, finally, if you have a partnership with a council for an event – maybe they are sponsoring something – don’t worry. This would not be seen as breaking purdah. 

Anything else I need to know?

Purdah starts once the current Parliament has been dissolved and ends on the day of the election. 

For the majority of those working in comms, it will have little

effect on our day-to-day work. But it’s worth having the knowledge to be able to reassure those you’re working with. 

If you have any questions, get in touch. 

May 2024 | Julie Palmer