Yesterday Grant Shapps attacked Sadiq Khan for “breaking election rules”. His outburst was triggered when TfL announced that the new Elizabeth line would open on 24th May 2022. He then went on a bizarre rampage, spewing out random policy decisions (which in itself may have broken election law). He closed out by claiming he would be referring Mr Khan to the Election Commission, despite this falling outside their remit.
But what actually happened? Did Sadiq Khan really break election law? Or is Grant Shapps talking out of his arse as usual.
Sadiq Khan did not break Election Law
First and foremost, enforcement of the pre-election period known as “purdah” is not a principle of law. This was confirmed by the High Court in 2017 when the Government of the day sought to use it to delay compliance with a court ordered consultation. Rather, this is a set of guidelines for officials, civil servants and holders of elected office are expected to follow. But has Sadiq breached these?
No. Banning all announcements in the run up to an election would cause utter chaos. Public officials can make announcements of fact, as long as they are not political in nature.
The announcement itself was completely functional in nature, timed to coincide with the Diamond Jubilee weekend. Any delay to this announcement would have put this timeline at risk. There was absolutely no policy dimension or political element to the message whatsoever. Moreover, TfL advised Grant Shapps Ministry a week ago about the planned announcement and received no objections.
So this leaves two options; either Grant Shapps so incompetent that he did not know about this. Or he is throwing a hissy fit as a smokescreen so that he can “cynically break the rules”.
The Electoral Commission has no involvement in enforcing Purdah
That’s right, Grant Shapps may as well have referred this matter to the security guard at his local Waitrose. The Electoral Commission has already responded to Grant Shapps referral, stating:
The Commission is the independent regulator which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK… …We do not have a role in regulating the pre-election period ahead of elections, or purdah as it is sometimes known.Electoral Commission statement taken from the Metro
In essence, this means that if civil servants break the rules it is treated as an HR matter. This can result in dismissal. If elected official break the rules, this would essentially be treated as a breach of standards. Of course, even if Sadiq Khan has broken the rules, this Government has spent the last two years showing us precisely what they think about standards in public life. Our Government has no shame and behaviour that was once a resigning matter is now routinely ignored.
Many of Mr Shapps colleagues should have resigned over breaches of the Ministerial Code. I note that he is not calling them out.
What about Grant Shapps behaviour?
Ironically, Grant Shapps has potentially broken the rule he has accused Sadiq Khan of breaking. Take a look at the following Tweet:
What do you think? Does the “Conservatives” logo associated with the announcement of a new line opening break rules? What about announcing £9bn of Government support? Given his comments about Sadiq Khan, I do not see how Mr Shapps actions are acceptable.