General Election 2024: What is the pre-election period known as purdah?

Parliament was officially dissolved at midnight, which means we are now in a pre-election period known as purdah.

The term "purdah", which derives from Urdu and Persian and means "curtain", describes the period between the time an election is announced and the date the election is held.

It is a period of heightened sensitivity, when certain restrictions are in place on government activity.

Sky News and other broadcasters also have to ensure their coverage gives due weight to parties and candidates during the campaign period.

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During purdah, governments, ministers and civil servants are required to exercise caution in making announcements or decisions that might have an effect on the election campaign.

This is not set out in law, but is governed by conventions and there are no sanctions if ministers are perceived to have breached the rules.

Backbench and opposition MPs are not constrained by purdah.

Purdah means there are technically no MPs - only candidates for seats.

However, that does not mean we don't still have a government.

Because ministers remain in office and in charge of their departments during an election campaign, it is customary for them to observe discretion in announcing initiatives that are new or of a long-term character.

This does not mean that they can't be out on the campaign trail.

But it does mean public money and departmental resources should not be used for party political purposes.

Purdah also effects civil servants, who are expected to avoid any activity that could, or could be seen to, influence the outcome of the election.

Local councils also observe this period of "heightened sensitivity".

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The Code of Recommended Practice that they must follow includes a rule that they must not use public funds to mount publicity campaigns that seek to influence voters at any time of year, including during an election.

Most election campaigns throw up accusations of a breach of purdah.

In 2019, then prime minister Boris Johnson was accused of a purdah breach after he announced new funding for the devolved administrations while on a visit to Brecon and Radnorshire in Wales, where a by-election was being held.

The government said at the time the announcement was not specific to any constituency, so did not break the rules.