Purdah (she wrote)

Since writing this blog I have thought a lot about influence and freedoms and responsibilities. I feel it important to state that by no means am I encouraging any Officer to act against Police Regs. I believe in upholding the Regs as a condition of employment. My blog is meant as a technical and informative addition to the Political climate within today’s Policing landscape. If you are taking the time to read this blog, please do re-familiarise yourself with Regs.

http://library.college.police.uk/docs/college-of-policing/pre-election-guidelines-2015.pdf This link gives you the most current advice from the College of Police. Section 12 applies to all serving Police Officers and there is some guidance there for Police Staff too.

As we draw closer to the General Election, I have been pondering purdah and what it really means for Police, both as individuals and as an organisation. We expect UK Policing to be above Politics, the epitome of impartiality. Yet the truth is that Policing and Politics are inextricably linked. The advent of Police and Crime Commissioners served to concentrate the minds of many both within the Police Service and those who have interest in the field. Suddenly every one knew about purdah and the restrictions it placed upon serving officers. Except….does it actually place those restrictions on officers? What is purdah really? What happens if you break it?

This year, purdah begins on 30th March. It is not a law. It is described as a moral obligation and is employed to avoid Political one upmanship in the run up to an election. In simple terms, Local Government stops announcing new initiatives until after the election, so as not to appear to advantage one candidate over another. Its not quite as innocuous as it sounds, given that if advantage can be proven, prosecution is possible under the Local Government Act 1986.

Police Forces are not part of Local Government although they are part of the State. Why and when did purdah become so essential to Police behaviour? I am largely unaware of purdah being discussed around Policing prior to the 2010 election and even then it was minimal.

Schedule 1 of Police Regulations 2003 states that a member of a police force shall at all times abstain from any activity which is likely to interfere with the impartial discharge of his duties or which is likely to give rise to the impression amongst members of the public that it may so interfere; and in particular a member of a police force shall not take any active part in politics. This is not purdah. This is a constant expectation of all sworn officers. They cannot canvas for any particular Political Party or, if their role is such, they cannot act in a manner which might lead to suspicion of Political interference in their decision making for instance. In 2012, ahead of the PCC elections, Kent Police Federation pondered the meaning of Schedule 1. http://www.kentpolfed.org.uk/chairman0812.htm     No talk of purdah though. For the most part, I agree with the Chairman’s thoughts and believe that Police Officers are citizens too and as such must be able to speak out about policies within Policing. How else will the public know about the efficacy of new (or reshaped old) ideas?

The College of Policing has guidance on Force requirements during and after an Election, https://www.app.college.police.uk/app-content/policing-elections/key-roles-and-planning/?s=purdah here. It is the only document I can find which mentions purdah. You can find the single reference to it under Impartiality…near the bottom. It correctly notes that Local Authorities are subject to purdah restrictions and provides a link for further reference. Even this is called Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity. Recommended Practice. In otherwords, guidelines. Unless the action is proven to give a specific advantage to a candidate, there is nothing illegal about a civil servant breaking purdah. Which is most fortunate, as in 2008, the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was accused of breaking purdah by announcing 300 Police officers and staff were going to be moved to anti terrorism duties in the run up to the last election. This is notable for two reasons. Firstly, she was not prosecuted and secondly, Labour went on to lose the election so any advantage which may have been assumed by angry Conservatives (notably Eric Pickles, who accused Labour of using the announcement to hide the fact they were cutting Police numbers!) was null and void anyway.

So, what do we know? We know that purdah is not legally binding, although there is a facility to prosecute should the action cause significant advantage to a candidate. We know that it is seen as a moral obligation, although the definition of a moral obligation probably deserves it’s own blog. We know that even when a Home Secretary broke purdah, nothing actually happened and in fact it didn’t help the outcome of the Election. We also know that it has never been written out to cover Police Officers. Over and above their requirement to remain impartial, purdah doesn’t even hold a moral obligation over Police.

This http://www.acpo.police.uk/documents/futures/2012/201207FBAGfIwPCCs.pdf     ACPO document written to prepare for the PCC Elections in 2012 suggests that a ‘transparent approach’ would be to follow Local Authority guidelines. Evidently purdah is not binding, it has never covered Police officers until the Politicisation of Policing governance brought in by this current Government and nothing bad will befall you as individuals or organisationally, if you happen to find yourself on the wrong side of purdah. Obviously, this does not mean that Forces or individual officers can unfetter their Political selves. Police are a professionals operating successfully both locally and nationally and as such, understand the need for impartiality and the importance of their role for all of the public, without favour.

Of course, PCCs are a different matter. They are most certainly subject to purdah and I will be watching with interest how the more political of that group conduct themselves in the coming weeks. There are increasing examples of PCCs saying what they like and simply ignoring detractors when challenged. That kind of behaviour might trip a few up before May if they are not careful.

When I began to look into purdah I expected to be writing a blog heavy in disapproval of the tight restrictions placed upon Police Officers.  What I have discovered is that nothing really has changed and I suggest you all carry on as you did before….before PCCs, before the Political creeep. You were impartial then and you will remain so now. And if you’ve made it this far, have a little light relief on me   http://youtu.be/2fx7p7TEi6M   Purdah She Wrote. Chaka Demus & Pliers.

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11 Responses to Purdah (she wrote)

  1. Once a Cop says:

    Most police officers I know don’t even vote in local or national elections. Very few are members of a political party. Rarely in police stations do conversations turn to politics, I exclude comments on politics, local and national events. One exception was the Miners Strike, now long ago and in recent years the behaviour of the current Home Secretary.
    ‘Plebgate’ in London and elsewhere has had an impact on what was once a robust defender of the police service, yes the Police Federation of England & Wales. There is no better sign than their absence from the current ‘Cuts have Consequences’ campaign by many local Police Federation branches.
    Even a guarded comment on a blog by a serving police inspector can lead to ‘management advice’ and unpleasantness. That will be Inspector Michael Brown and his blog ‘Mental Health Cop’. A number of Twitter accounts used by serving officers and anonymous officers have incurred the wrath of those above.
    The leadership of the police service, commonly known as ACPO, are rarely known to ‘speak truth unto power’. Let alone about the cuts to police budgets. With rare exceptions their refrain is “All is well”. You could say they have been in purdah for a very long time.
    How about the enforced departure from policing of two MPs who served in the Special Constabulary until very recently? Reportedly due to the College of Policing guidelines, Strange that none of the MPs who serve in the reserve forces has had to follow them.
    Just perhaps police officers, their families and friends will cast their votes in May 2014 in such a way to make it clear what they think – as a certain ‘Inspector Gadget’ advocates.

  2. catemoore says:

    Hi Once A Cop. I too was once a cop and I must say I knew then and know now plenty of Officers who vote in both local and general Elections. My dad was in the Met during the Miners Strike and I grew up around the rather successful Politicking of Margaret Thatcher and Police. I have written extensively on PFEW and Plebgate. I would contest that Plebgate was a symptom of an already impotent Fed rather than the other way around. My dad was a Fed man and the Fed helped me hugely. So whenever I criticise them, I do so with a heavy heart. I would take the incident surrounding Inspector Brown (again, which I am fully aware of) as a stand alone and not look at it as part of what I was addressing in this blog.

    I would, however, agree with your assertion that ACPO have been in a kind of self imposed purdah for many years now. It is my belief that the old guard are on their way out and we will see an increased rate of support and hear more voices in the future.

    I always thought it was entirely wrong for MPs to be Specials. Police Regs are there for a reason and everyone must adhere to them. There is no question in my mind that the College was quite right to ensure that was dealt with properly.

    My blog is not a cry to ask for Police Officers to politicise themselves. It is a clarification of what purdah means and a reassurance that it does not cover Police for this election. If everyone simply follows Police Regs, which they are comfortable with anyway, that is more than enough. I find many Police Officers of all ranks and experience are very interested in Politics. In fact I’d be worried if they were not. Police – route word Polis. Of the people.

    I hope I have addressed some of the points you raised. Thank you for commenting, I found your thoughts very interesting – hence the lengthy reply!

  3. In all my years of Policing I had never even heard the word Purdah unti I’d been retired a good many years. Just the usual advice given to all cops about political involvement generally. Just one more way of trying to control folk?

  4. Pingback: SILENCE | RetiredAndAngry

  5. Cate,

    If I may,

    Having looked Purdah up, it seems to originate from the early 20th Century.

    According to the House of Commons Library;

    “The term “purdah” is in use across central and local government to describe the period of time immediately before elections or referendums when specific restrictions on the activity of civil servants are in place. The term ‘pre-election period’ is also used. “………..”Guidance is issued to civil servants on the principles that they should observe in relation to the conduct of Government business in the pre-election period; the guidance for the pre-election period in 2015 was issued on 30 March 2015.”

    As Police Officers are definitely NOT Civil Servants it would seem that it doesn’t apply to them.

    What is URGENTLY needed is an Idiot’s Guide to exactly what is meant by Political Activity within the Regs. I do not believe that Police Officers should leave themselves open to Discipline< PSDs have already shown how keen some of them can be, but neither should they be unfairly silenced. Are they not allowed to criticise what they believe to be unfair?

    I come back to my previous comment, is Purdah just being used as another way for the Job to attempt to control its officers in the modern era?

    • catemoore says:

      My understanding of Purdah is that you are correct, Alan. I think it is important to note however, that not all Officers appear to be certain of what Police Regs routinely precludes them from (which I’d venture is in part due to the lack of £ & time available for initial training). This, coupled with increased sensitivity and an influx of attention from local Politicians during an Election may lead to more danger than usual for officers. If I was their senior officer, I’d seek to protect them from that. However, I also think if you are tough enough to be a Police Officer you are ultimately tough enough to make your own decisions. I added my bit in italics to balance my blog, not direct opinion.

  6. Once a cop says:

    The subject of political restrictions came up in a recent chat with other ex-officers. Of note one recalled that sometime ago an officer challenged the accepted wisdom over being prevented from being a member of a political party and delivering party leaflets in a local election. Their recollection was that the ‘guidance’ had to be amended to allow membership and leafletting – with the proviso that party activity would NOT occur where they worked. It helped the officer lived some distance from where they worked.
    I recall that now a few years ago regulations stated membership of the BNP was incompatible with being a police officer. Shortly afterwards a “leaked” BNP membership list exposed a few officers, including GMP CC’s chauffeur I think.
    I see today via Twitter a Chief Constable has participated in a public debate in Birmingham over leadership in local government, alongside a number of local politicians and others. Reforming local government in Birmingham is hardly a non-contentious matter and loacl electiosn are due next month. Hardly sounds like “purdah” is being observed.

    • catemoore says:

      I agree it’s an ever more complicated area. Very difficult to argue against a challenge such as the Officer who wanted to help his local Political Party after a Met Commissioner put Party Political messages on marked police cars (some years back). It would be easy to suggest this smacks of one rule for top ranks, another for everyone else, but I don’t think that’s true. I want our Chiefs in the melee of local authorities. Policing is a link between every LA service & the service thst picks up the pieces when things go wrong. Chiefs need to be in the melee. I can’t find any tweets re today’s event in Birmingham but it seems odd that they are discussing such matter when they are definitely subject to purdah. In fact, maybe West Mids Chief Constable is the only person who could actually properly say he is free to be there today! Regs don’t change for an election.

      • Once a cop says:

        The West Mids CC does not tweet, but NewsinBrum did tweet: In the audience and making the first contribution to the debate @WMPolice Chief Constable
        Chris Sims


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