WHAT IS THE EU REFERENDUM PURDAH CONTROVERSY ALL ABOUT?
When our political masters don’t want the vast majority of people to understand what they are talking about they frequently use the type of words or expressions which are unlikely to be understood. “Purdah” is one such expression.
The word “purdah” is from Old Persian and is one of the words adopted from the days of the British Raj in India. British officers observed that in many Muslim, and some Hindu, households the women were kept formally segregated from the men by, in the main, a system of veils or curtains. On the face of it such a word seems to have little relevance to modern British politics but the basic idea is that the administration of the country should be kept segregated from politics when there is an important election or referendum occurring. There was thus a rule during the Scottish Independence Referendum that the Scottish Government wasn’t allowed to be an active participant in the Referendum and so Scottish Ministers were not allowed to use Scottish Civil Servants to advance their case and, in particular, were not allowed to use public money to fund their campaigning.
It was noticeable during the Scottish Independence Referendum that the rules of purdah were not applied to the British Government which made many publically funded interventions. In some cases, specific civil servants even made political comments, in a way that was fundamentally not only unfair but disingenuous. The current argument over the rule on purdah, in principle, is about fairness and a degree of equality of arms and of opportunity between the Yes and No campaigns in the EU referendum.
This issue particularly important where the Government is proposing different spending limits for the Yes Campaign and for the No campaign, especially when you consider that the media as a whole is run by big business and therefore has very little concern for the democratic rights of our country and much more concerned with profit and the ease by which regulations can be altered to their advantage, concerns which are better served by remaining in the EU.
Indeed the main way in which people get news in the country however is by the taxpayer funded BBC which has already taken more than £20m in subsidy from the EU itself and which shows no signs of shame in its blatantly biased pro-EU editorial slant. Those in the Out Campaign will therefore be faced with considerable structural difficulties in getting their arguments heard.
A true level playing field would probably require the Out Campaign to be allowed to spend several multiples of whatever the In Campaign is able to spend. In fact Cameron’s scheme is to allow the Out Campaign to spend much less than the In Campaign.
Thus the arguments over the purdah rules are of course very important.
It is very instructive that David Cameron and his Government are clearly showing, having been forced to come out into the open by the Backbench rebellion the other day, that they intend to be devious and unfair about the way that the referendum is conducted.
Also that David Cameron’s talk about negotiations within the EU is nothing more than a smokescreen, since, in effect, what he is saying to our European “partners” that even if they offer him nothing of note at all, he is going to campaign to remain in the EU. The whole exercise therefore isn’t so much one of veils or curtains but rather of smoke and mirrors!