Headlines: April 17th, 2008

The Home Secretary has denied breaking election rules by making an inappropriate political announcement during the run-up to the local polls on May 1st. The Conservatives lodged an official complaint after Jacqui Smith unveiled plans for 300 new police officers and staff to undertake anti-terror duties.

The Home Office said careful consideration had been given to the announcement, including discussions with the Cabinet Office. Reports have suggested, however, that the Cabinet Office had not completed its assessment of whether the announcement could be made during the period of silence in the weeks before an election. The system is designed to prevent a party in power having an unfair advantage during an election campaign. The period of ‘Purdah’ for the local elections began officially on April 10th for Whitehall departments.

The Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles, reported Ms Smith to the Cabinet
Secretary and said, “This was quite clearly a carefully choreographed piece of political spin to cover-up the fact that Labour have cut the number of police on the streets.” He added that it was clear that ministers had intentionally broken Cabinet Office rules in an attempt to create a political smokescreen.

A Home Office representative said it attached great importance to adherence to the rules governing elections. The Home Secretary’s speech was about the prevention of terrorism, an issue of fundamental national importance, and it was on that basis that the speech had gone ahead. The spokswoman added, “The Home Office took the view that it was appropriate that an announcement on an issue of national importance should be made.”