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Rishi Sunak Could Be in More Trouble as Maths Announcement May Have Broken Election Rules

The guidance says ministers must take ‘care’ and avoid announcing decisions that could influence elections – such as England’s local elections in just two weeks

Will the prime minister own up to it? Photo: Zuma/Alamy

Rishi’s rule breachesSunak Could Be in More Trouble as Maths Announcement May Have Broken Election Rules

The guidance says ministers must take ‘care’ and avoid announcing decisions that could influence elections – such as England’s local elections in just two weeks

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Rishi Sunak has been reported to the Cabinet Secretary after he was accused of breaking “purdah” rules preventing big policy announcements ahead of elections. 

The Lib Dems say that Monday’s maths policy push from the PM, where he restated his January plan to force kids to learn maths until aged 18, could violate the government’s own election guidance.  

Ministers are meant to steer clear of publicising new policies in the run up to elections, to stop the civil service being used to promote materials that could boost the governing party’s chances, giving them an unfair, state-funded advantage.

The maths push from Sunak came with new pledges including setting up a new advisory group to work out what maths content students should study up to the age of 18, SchoolsWeek reported. 

The Prime Minister has also promised a new national professional qualification (NPQ) for teachers leading on maths in primary schools. It reportedly comes with new funding to provide the skills upgrade until early 2024 – again, shortly before an expected General Election. 

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Other programmes Sunak announced would be extended include “maths hubs”, rolling out the Mastering Numbers programme, which is meant to support children in the first years of primary school. But more politically, Sunak announced he would be challenging a supposed “anti-maths mindset” in England. 

It comes on the same day it emerged that Rishi Sunak is under investigation over an alleged failure to declare his wife’s interest in a childcare firm that stood to benefit from the PM’s spring budget. The millionaire pair’s financial arrangements have come under growing scrutiny in recent months.

Now the Liberal Democrats have written to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to report Rishi Sunak over the announcements, which they say breached purdah rules. 

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Cabinet Office Spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats Christine Jardine said the Government’s own guidance on purdah makes clear that “it needs to be borne in mind that the activities of the UK Government could have a bearing on the election [campaign]”. The guidance adds: “care also needs to be taken in relation to the announcement of UK Government decisions which could have a bearing on the elections”. 

The Lib Dems have called for an investigation to be opened into whether the announcement breached rules. 

Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office Spokesperson Christine Jardine MP said: “We need an investigation immediately into this announcement and the Prime Minister has serious questions to answer about whether his Government ignored the rules.

“This Government knows that the writing is on the wall ahead of the local elections this May and so they are intent on bending the rules to do whatever they can to salvage seats. 

“People are tired and fed up with this Conservative Government’s intent on fiddling the rules and operating in murky waters, and that’s why millions of people are set to send them a message they won’t be able to ignore.”

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Dr Dexter Govan, Director of Research at the independent Constitution Society, added that the announcement seems to represent the “continuation of a more general trend of behaviour which includes the releasing of material to the press before it appears before the House of Commons.”

He added: “While such breaches may not be serious in and of themselves, when added together they contribute to a decline in standards which can have serious repercussions for our politics.” 

Rishi Sunak’s spokesman told Byline Times’ Adam Bienkov: “Obviously we are aware of the rules that guide local election purdah and abide by them. We ensure that any announcement we make observes purdah rules.”

Last month the Liberal Democrats called on the ethics adviser to launch an official investigation into whether Suella Braverman breached the ministerial code, by attacking civil servants over the government’s small boats policy. 

The party has become engulfed in sleaze, with since-suspended Tory MP Scott Benton caught in a Times sting when he suggested he’d lobby politicians on behalf of gambling investors. 

A Led By Donkeys investigation also saw former cabinet ministers Matt Hancock and Kwasi Kwarteng offer a daily rate for consultancy work of £10,000. It would be to advise a non-existent firm in South Korea. (There is no accusation of wrongdoing as MPs are allowed to earn unlimited amounts outside their parliamentary work). 

The Cabinet Office was also contacted for comment.

Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty are the 222nd richest people in Britain as of 2022, with a combined wealth of £730 million – most of it from Murty, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. Their enormous portfolio is almost bound to trigger more conflict of interest allegations given the range of investments that could be affected by the PM’s decisions. No wrongdoing is alleged of Akshata Murty.


Letter in Full

Dear Cabinet Secretary,

I am writing ahead of the Government announcement today on mathematics. 

As you will be aware, the Prime Minister is expected to announce a package of measures on maths, including “a new advisory group…to advise government on…core maths content”, a commitment to “extending maths hubs”, and the introduction of “a new voluntary and fully funded professional qualification for teachers leading maths in primary schools”. 

I am highly concerned that this announcement is breaching purdah rules. As you will be aware, we are now in the pre-election ‘purdah’ period, which began on Thursday 13 April in relation to local elections in England. 

The Government’s own guidance on purdah makes clear that “it needs to be borne in mind that the activities of the UK Government could have a bearing on the election [campaign]”, stressing that “care also needs to be taken in relation to the announcement of UK Government decisions which could have a bearing on the elections”. 

Further, the guidance is clear that, “particular care should be taken over official support, and the use of public resources, including publicity, for government announcements that could have a bearing on matters relevant to the elections.”

Today’s announcement on mathematics has been fully supported by Government resources, including a Downing Street press release. Education is also clearly an area of relevant importance to local authorities and, accordingly, a local election campaign. I am therefore very concerned that the purdah rules have been breached by the Government in regards to this announcement. 

I therefore urge you to open an investigation as to whether this announcement breached purdah rules. If concerns were expressed by officials, were they ignored by Conservative ministers? 

I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Christine Jardine MP 

Liberal Democrat Cabinet Office spokesperson

If you have a political or social story that needs telling, get in touch with Byline Times’ Chief Reporter Josiah Mortimer confidentially by emailing josiah@bylinetimes.com.


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