The Liberal Democrats have called for an investigation after accusing the Prime Minister of flouting purdah rules by making a policy announcement in the run-up to local elections.
Nina Lloyd www.independent.co.uk
Christine Jardine MP said she is “deeply concerned” that the move breaches the Government’s own guidance on the pre-election period of sensitivity.
Purdah rules restrict what communications activity can take place in the weeks before polling day.
Government resources cannot be used for party political campaigning and particular care is meant to be taken in the run-up to an election to ensure the impartiality of the civil service.
In a letter addressed to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case on Monday, Ms Jardine called for an investigation to be opened “immediately” into the Government’s “maths to 18” announcement.
The plans, outlined in a speech by Rishi Sunak at a north London college, would see all pupils studying the subject in some form up to the age of 18.
“I am highly concerned that this announcement is breaching purdah rules. As you will be aware, we are now in the pre-election ‘purdah’ period, which began on Thursday 13 April in relation to local elections in England,” the Lib Dem’s Cabinet Office spokesperson wrote.
“Today’s announcement on mathematics has been fully supported by Government resources, including a Downing Street press release. Education is also clearly an area of relevant importance to local authorities and, accordingly, a local election campaign.
“I am therefore very concerned that the purdah rules have been breached by the Government in regards to this announcement.
“I therefore urge you to open an investigation as to whether this announcement breached purdah rules. If concerns were expressed by officials, were they ignored by Conservative ministers?”
Labour MP Angela Eagle also hit out in a tweet: “This (Government) completely ignores all the purdah rules”.
Purdah rules apply to new policy announcements but the Lib Dems had issued a statement hours earlier describing Monday’s pledge as a “rehashed” plan.
Other critics including Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, accused Mr Sunak of “reannouncing” a “vague and poorly thought-out policy” first set out in January.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters the Government ensured that announcements were within the rules.
“We are aware of the rules that guide local election purdah and abide by them,” the spokesman said.