Public Affairs at election time: What you need to know

15 February 2022 - by Anna Mercer

Elections offer a great opportunity to engage with politicians on shaping their thinking. However it can be the case that organisations are wary of campaigning in the pre-election period due to the sensitivities that accompany it.

Here we've outlined our five top tips which will help you understand the key areas you need to consider when engaging with politicians in the pre-election period.

  1. “Purdah” as it is traditionally known, is the period after which the Assembly is dissolved, and MLAs become candidates. It is a time during which there are some restrictions on communications activity in an effort to ensure the principle of fairness across all candidates vying for a seat in a new Assembly. With the election set for 5 May,  the pre-election period will officially commence following the dissolution of the Assembly on 25 March.
  1. Whilst MLAs are no longer in post, Ministers remain in their departments until polling day, and continue to preside over their department. However they must exercise discretion in announcing any new initiatives or others that can be considered to have long term impact.
  1. There is also a UK wide regulated period which commenced on the 5 January and runs until polling day which relates to campaign spending limits. The regulated period applies to non-party campaigners that campaign in the run up to elections who intend to influence voters for or against categories of candidates or parties who do or don’t support a certain issue (this is called the “purpose test”); AND if activities are aimed at the public (the “public test”). This is enforced by the Electoral Commission and more information on this can be found here
  1. The pre-election guidance, which is issued by the NI Executive to civil servants in advance of this period, comes from the Cabinet Office and applies across the UK devolved and home civil services during elections to various assemblies and parliaments.
  1. For organisations and businesses, elections offer a great opportunity for engagement, and effective organisations will be using the time to lodge their evidence and asks with political parties with the aim of securing commitments in the manifestos. Some may take the opportunity to host events and hustings, and in this situation, it is important that a fair and balanced approach is taken; for example, making sure all parties are invited to take part and are afforded the same speaking rights (proportionate to current representation if required).