Dissolution of Parliament and the pre-election period

Today is significant not only because it’s the launch of the Democratic Society’s 2015 General Election blog (hooray!), but also because it marks two other important events in the general election calendar: the dissolution of Parliament in the United Kingdom, and the beginning of a pre-election period commonly known as ‘purdah’. But what are these political phenomenon?

Dissolution of Parliament

Parliament is responsible for checking the work of the government on behalf of UK citizens, partly to ensure it’s doing a good job. It also examines, debates and approves new laws.

There are three parts to Parliament:

• The House of Commons, composed elected Members of Parliament (more commonly known as ‘MPs’)
• The House of Lords, composed of unelected members
• The Monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, who signs the laws that Parliament vote for.

According to the law of the United Kingdom, an election for members of Parliament (MPs) must happen every five years. Dissolution is the official term for the end of a current Parliament, which must happen 25 working days before the date of voting for each general election. Once the Parliament has been dissolved, it will generally not meet again until a new government is formed. The only reason that Parliament would be recalled is if there was a matter of urgent public interest such as war or a natural disaster, which has happened a few times.

As a result of the dissolution of Parliament, all MP’s are required to leave their post. This means that the UK currently has no MP’s and, if they want to ever return to Parliament, they must stand for re-election and be voted in. There are no changes to the House of Lords during this period as the members are appointed, not elected.

It is worth nothing that whilst the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly also go through a period of dissolution, they hold their elections at a different time to the UK general election, so they are currently functioning as usual.

If you would like to know more about the dissolution of Parliament, there is further information on the Parliament website.

Pre-election period (purdah)

Today also marks the official start of the official pre-election period, also known as ‘purdah’. As the time between now and polling day (Thursday 7th May) is very politically sensitive, it is important that local authorities and central government departments do not do anything that might affect public support for a political party or candidate. There are restrictions placed on some of their work by law.

Local services will continue to operate and normal council business can take place. The main restrictions are around communication and the use of resources.

During this period your local Council, for example, must ensure that they don’t publish any controversial issues or proposals which could be linked to a candidate or political party; are not releasing communications involving political parties or candidates that could affect impartiality; and avoiding the organisation of events involving select local elected representatives. This means that the Council could not call a photo call for a councillor attending the opening of a new service, or publish a news item on its website attributing work to a particular candidate. You can find out more about what local and central Government should consider during purdah in guidance produced by the Local Government Association.

Individual candidates and councillors are allowed to continue to use resources which are not connected to local authorities or central government departments in a personal capacity. This might include personal blogs, social media and local press.

If you would like to read more about what happens during the pre-election period, you can find further information on the Parliament website or in this recent article.