Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Electoral Purdah

Most of us are familiar with the concept of 'Budget Purdah,' when the Chancellor of the Exchequer refrains from comment on economic issues in the run-up to his budget. There's another kind - that of 'Election Purdah.'

According to the the Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity,

The period between the notice of an election and the election itself should preclude proactive publicity in all its forms of candidates and other politicians involved directly in the election. Publicity should not deal with controversial issues or report views, proposals or recommendations in such a way that identifies them with individual members or groups of members.
I raise this, because Martin Mullaney's scrutiny committee gave the green light to the A34 Red Route through Springfield. This has been opposed by many traders along the Stratford Road, running through Cllr Jerry Evans' ward. Cllr Evans is up for election this year and also has the luck to serve on Cllr Mullaney's scrutiny committee. He was also the author of a 'minority' report addendum to the main scrutiny report, the only voice amongst the all-party committee calling for

Now, I quite like Martin and Jerry, but this is a little naughty.

Martin, in his defence, says that
No Code has been breached here for the following reasons: 1) The Council has done NO publicity on this report. I've done it by giving a copy of the report to the press. 2) This is not a 'decision', it merely Committee business and purely advisory.

If Martin, as Chair of the Scrutiny Committee (nominally a council, rather than a party political appointment) has given this report to the press, then that qualifies as proactive publicity - it isn't a response to a question, it is putting the report out there. Furthermore, the code explicitly covers 'recommendations' - which this report certainly is. Martin continues,
all I can say is that the Scrutiny Committee officers were happy that this report did not breach the election purda law. I didn't put any pressure on them to alter their process. They followed Committee process and the Senior Officer in charge of Scrutiny was kept fully involved throughout that process.

Well, the officers seem to think that this is perfectly fine, but I'm still not convinced.

Don't get me wrong - this isn't a huge issue and I'm not so exercised that I'm about to go bleating to Mirza Ahmad (the Chief Legal Officer), but I do think that the Lib Dems haven't covered themselves in glory over the past week - John Hemming is STILL trying to defend Saeed Aehmed and the soon-to-be-defeated Cllr Ayoub Khan, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

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