Caretaker Government meet Gov2.0

If you haven’t heard, the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown has been to see the Queen about an election. Having done that, the British Government is now in what’s called Caretaker mode.

In the Westminster system as it is practiced in Australian and the UK, once an election has been called and the warrants issued for said election the Government of the day ceases to have the power to do anything more than ensure the continued running of the various departments, programmes and services as they were at the time of the writs being issued. This means no new legislation can be passed, no new programmes can be developed and launched and no new services created until after the election.

As well as Government shifting down into caretaker mode, the Cabinet office in the UK declares something called Purdah. Essentially this means that Government departments are restricted from communicating with the public about new or controversial Government policy. The main effect of this is of course to shutdown the Government departments as a tool in the election for the time running up to polling day.

However, this time round we’ve hit a bit of a snag.

At the time of the last British election, social media was just starting to kick into its strides. People were still excited about the Youtube election, political parties going online to reach out to a new demographic and so on and so forth. Government itself was still trying to figure out how exactly this internet thing fit in with the rest of the real world.

In the intervening years, social media, the internet and Government 2.0 has changed and is continuing to change the way that the public interacts with the Government in the UK (both nationally and at a Local Government level). This is a “Good Thing(tm)”. However it’s about to come to a screaming halt for the next six weeks. Purdah has already started rolling across the various social media initiatives causing them to announce that until after the election they are going to essentially go into lock down.

So the question is raised, which is more important: Keeping open new channels of communication developed after years of hard work, or ensuring the appearance and reality of a neutral public service during an election period?

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