These pre-election contacts have existed for 50 years. The UK system of elections sees an immediate handover of power if a change of government occurs and then a rush to get the government going. Different mechanisms have evolved to mitigate this hasty handover. But not enough thought has gone into how those mechanisms might work best. The contacts are a limited activity. They allow the Opposition to explain major policy plans and therefore allow civil servants to consider what will be involved in shifting machinery, people and plans to adjust to the new government if one occurs. Back in 1963-64 Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home was the first to allow them when it became clear that Labour had major plans for a new economic department. From the start, such contacts were highly ambiguous. The Civil Service serves the government of the day up to the election, thinking ahead about what might happen under a different government may seem wrong. But in fact, effective government has to think longer term. For civil servants it’s about being prepared, as the permanent part of government, whoever their future masters are. Back in 1963-64 it was recognised that the civil service also had a guardianship […]

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