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.