General election 2024: what is purdah and when does it start?

General election 2024: what is purdah and when does it start?

Rishi Sunak has announced that there will be a general election on Thursday, July 4.

In a statement outside 10 Downing Street at around 5pm on Wednesday (May 22), the prime minister vowed to “fight for every vote” and stressed that “now is the moment for Britain to choose its future”.

Parliament will be suspended on Friday (May 24), before being formally shut down on Thursday, May 30.

The Government is soon expected to be in a “purdah”, but what does this mean?

What is purdah? 

Ministers, civil servants, and local authorities will soon be required to exercise caution in making announcements or decisions that might affect the election campaign. This is known as purdah (the pre-election period).

Purdah describes the period between the time an election is announced and the date the election is held.

New government initiatives that could favour any candidates or parties in the upcoming election must not be announced until afterwards.

Ministers must observe discretion in announcing new or long-term initiatives.

For example, in 2023 Mr Sunak was reported to the Cabinet Secretary after being accused of breaking the pre-election period rules preventing big policy announcements before elections.

Civil servants can participate in campaigning provided public money and departmental resources are not used for party political purposes.

Civil servants have a code they must follow at all times, based on the civil service's core values: integrity, honesty, objectivity, and impartiality.

Local authorities are required to follow statutory guidance about publicity all year round.  The Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity includes a list of rules they must follow, including not using public funds to mount publicity campaigns that seek to influence voters at any time of year.

Public resources, such as Government-funded advertising, are usually not allowed for partisan political purposes.

When does purdah start?

The purdah period typically begins once the UK Parliament has been dissolved, usually a few weeks before a general election. This will be Thursday, May 30 in 2024.

Where does the word purdah originate from?

The word "purdah" originates from Persian and Urdu, where it means "curtain" or "veil."

In its original cultural context, purdah referred to the practice of secluding or veiling women from the sight of men who were not close relatives, and it was often associated with practices aimed at maintaining modesty and privacy.

Over time, the term has been adopted in English and other languages to refer to various forms of segregation or isolation. This includes the period of political restraint before an election, as in the UK.