Political hustings on campus prohibited during purdah

Salford bans debates after selective invitations, writes Melanie Newman

April 29, 2010

A university has banned pre-election debates and hustings on campus because of the risk of breaking the law during the purdah period.

The edict at the University of Salford is detailed in an email to staff, which says that “to avoid any breach of charitable or electoral law, the university will not be hosting any events either directly or through third parties on campus”.

Salford has refused to grant permission for two political debates, one hosted by a student society and one by the Church Reform Group, on the grounds that only three of the prospective parliamentary candidates for the area were invited.

A spokesman said the ban had been imposed following Universities UK guidance, which says that, to comply with the law, universities must “treat candidates equally and fairly, which means if you invite one to take part in an event you must invite all candidates”.

The Salford spokesman added: “If all candidates are not invited, the Electoral Commission might consider that we have provided a non-cash donation (benefit in kind) to the candidates that have been selectively invited.”

However, such strict interpretation of this UUK guidance is not being applied elsewhere.

For example, the School of Geography at the University of Exeter, where UUK president Steve Smith is vice-chancellor, jointly held a debate with low-carbon campaign group Transition Exeter last week to which the local British National Party candidate was not invited.

A spokesman for Exeter said Transition Exeter had invited the speakers.

“We understand that they wanted to invite a limited number of speakers to provide an event of manageable size,” the spokesman said.

John Dobson, a member of the University and College Union national executive, criticised Salford’s stance. “I cannot believe the charity commissioners have instructed university campuses to play no part in a general election,” he said.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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