Pre-election contact underway between Labour and perm secs

Written by Richard Johnstone on 24 April 2017 in News

General election guidance published by Cabinet Office sets out rules for civil servants in snap election campaign

Contacts between the Labour Party and the civil service are under way as part of the pre-election period after prime minister Theresa May authorised talks between the opposition and permanent secretaries on Wednesday, it has been revealed.

The General Election Guidance 2017, published by the Cabinet Office, set out the purdah pre-election arrangements that took effect from Saturday.

Discussions between senior Whitehall figures and the opposition politicians, a traditional part of the pre-election period, are “strictly confidential”, the guidance stated. These are intended to allow leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn and other senior Labour figures to “inform themselves of factual questions of departmental organisation and to inform civil servants of any organisational or policy changes likely in the event of a change of government".

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The guidance reiterated that during the election period, the government retains its responsibility to govern, and ministers remain in charge of their departments.

However, they should “observe discretion in initiating any new action of a continuing or long-term character”. Decisions on policies where a new government might be expected to want the opportunity to take a different stance should be postponed where this is not detrimental to the national interest or wasteful of public money.

As ministers remain in charge of their departments, the guidance stated it is reasonable they continue to receive support for any necessary governmental functions, including advice or briefing needed for issues that cannot be deferred until after polling day.

Officials should not, however, be asked to devise new arguments or to cost policies in the campaign, and they should also not do so for any opposition plans during this period.

By convention, the governing party is entitled to check with departments that statements made on its behalf are factually correct and consistent with government policy. Departments must not engage in party politics and should provide consistent factual information on request to candidates of all parties.

Special advisers who wish to take part in the general election campaign or help in a party headquarters or research unit during the campaign must first resign as spads, and the guidance called on departments to treat any request for advice from a former advisor “in the same way as requests from other members of the public”.

About the author

Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy editor and tweets as @RichRJohnstone

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