Elections in progress

Purdah Advice for West Northamptonshire

On 6 May West Northamptonshire will be holding the following elections:

Election Returning Officer
Local Election to West Northamptonshire Council Anna Earnshaw
Local Election to Parish and Town Councils in West Northamptonshire Anna Earnshaw
Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Elections Rob Bridge
Parish Referendum Anna Earnshaw

Guidance

The LGA provides a helpful guidance note on Purdah and the guidance for the elections in 2021.

It deals with the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity which is the guidance which deals specifically with Purdah.

Timing

Purdah applies between the notice of election and the date of election – notice of election is up to the authority and the last date for publication of notice of election is 8 April 2021. Returning Officers can publish notices on different days. It is intended that the Notice of Election for the Local Elections will be 25 March 2021 and also for the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections.

Summary of Advice

In summary Purdah is the period during an election when a veil or curtain (purdah) must be drawn between public authorities (and their expenditure) and those standing for election. It applies whether the candidates are standing for election to this Council or to any other election. In essence it means that we cannot use public resources to promote a candidate/party who is standing for election.

This means we have to consider Purdah if we refer to a candidate in a magazine, publish material about them or hold events activities which are likely to create opportunities for material to be published to support their candidacy, such as an opening, consultation etc. Business as usual can continue and major decision activities which were scheduled to happen during Purdah can continue but thought should be given to whether any the events are likely to occur during Purdah before the event is arranged and whether it is possible to cancel, defer or bring forward to avoid an impact on the election. There is a balancing judgment to make in each case.

Candidates and Parties

Although there is a need to consider events, if the event does not have any connection with any of the candidates and does not appear to promote or adversely affect any political party it is not necessary to cancel or move events.  Another individual eg member of another authority, or person connected with another large organisation like health or police may be standing for election in any of the elections so it is worth checking the full list of candidates before issuing publicity which might promote any individual.

We will not know the full list of candidates until the close of nominations on 8 April 2021 and will at that stage publish a list of all elected members and others who are candidates to ensure that everyone is aware of all the names of candidates. It should be remembered that promoting a political party can also be seen to influence the outcome of an election so promotion of parties should also be avoided (although we should avoid this at any time). It is not necessary to name or show an image of a candidate to influence their chances of success.

The term election is misleading because it suggests there is only one election. There is a separate election in each ward and each election has a different set of candidates so consideration about the impact should consider the particular candidates and location.

Negative Publicity

Publicity which appears to harm a candidate’s or party’s chances is also subject to Purdah – so publicising a failure of an individual, a successful prosecution or other legal notice against an individual could be seen to influence the outcome of the election and is equally caught.

Publicity

It is important to remember that we are responsible for everything that we publish whether or not it is connected to the election. So any document we produce on any subject which is sent to 2 or more people is publicity. This includes everything on our website including online statements and reports to committees are all ‘publicity’. Internal communications are also caught as well as letters to specific client groups about services.

However whilst anything more than 2 people is publicity – it will only influence the outcome of an election if a sufficient number receive the publicity to affect the outcome. It is therefore unlikely that internal communications unless they are sent to a sufficient number of people within one electoral area will influence an election outcome.

Press Releases

A press release will only influence the election if the press publish it. It is for the press (who are also caught by the law) to determine if the individual is standing for election and it won’t impact the outcome unless they chose to publish it (unless we publish the press release on our website). If however we use our resources to create a ‘publicity event’ such as an opening that is also regarded as publicity this may be caught as we will be responsible for publicising the event. On the whole for the simple rule is that we draw the veil and don’t promote candidates. Communications are familiar with Purdah and understand the Code of Local Authority Publicity and can advise if you are in doubt.

Legislation

The legislation which provides for the publicity code is the Local Government Act 1986 and section 2 and 4 provide the legislative framework for the Code of Publicity:

Section 2

A local authority shall not publish [or arrange for the publication of] any material which, in whole or in part, appears to be designed to affect public support for a political party.

(2) In determining whether material falls within the prohibition regard shall be had to the content and style of the material, the time and other circumstances of publication and the likely effect on those to whom it is directed and, in particular, to the following matters—
(a) whether the material refers to a political party or to persons identified with a political party or promotes or opposes a point of view on a question of political controversy which is identifiable as the view of one political party and not of another;
(b) where the material is part of a campaign, the effect which the campaign appears to be designed to achieve.

(3) A local authority shall not give financial or other assistance to a person for the publication of material which the authority are prohibited by this section from publishing themselves.

The Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000 is the legislation which provides the definition of material which is caught by election law.  Material which can reasonably be regarded as intended to promote or procure electoral success at any relevant election for:

  • One or more particular registered parties;
  • One or more registered parties who advocate particular policies; and
  • Candidates who hold particular opinions or who advocate particular policies.

Any material which meets this definition is caught by the general requirements relating to election material – this includes the use of an imprint and the cost of any such material being classed as election expenses for the relevant candidate.

PPERA also provides that

  • ‘Procuring electoral success’ also includes the prejudicing of any other candidate or party in an election;
  • It also includes doing so whether or not it is also intended to achieve some other purpose; and

A course of conduct may be interpreted as having this effect whether or not it mentions any party or candidate.