Freesteel Blog » Where do your candidates live?

Where do your candidates live?

Friday, April 23rd, 2010 at 9:36 am Written by:

If you go into the polling booth at this election you will find that for the first time since the Ballot Act 1872 some of the candidates have decided to keep their addresses secret.

How could this be?

Well, according to the Electoral Commission’s paperwork, all a candidate needs to do is tick a box on the Home address form and only the name of the constituency where they live will be disclosed.

There was a consultation over the change (which I entirely missed), and a 9 page Parliamentary briefing paper.

Messing with electoral law is a serious matter, especially when it is done on a whim on the basis of no evidence by those who are seeking re-election in a “turkeys voting against Christmas” scenario.

You might think this amendment is trivial, but all across the country elections are being fought explicitly over who is the more local candidate. And in other democracies, such as the United States, residency requirements are written into the Constitution.

Add to that the expenses scandal where MPs were permitted to lie about which was their second home, and flip them for profit.

So the issue is not really a trivial matter to us, the electorate, even though MPs profess not to know why we would ever need to know where they live in enough detail to verify that statements they make about themselves are honest.

None of these arguments appeared in the consultation document.

The arguments in favour of secrecy were listed thus:

(1) Candidates, and those elected as MPs, may be discouraged from speaking freely on issues if they fear that they may be subject to harassment or interference or worse.

(2) They may also fear that their families could also be at risk from disturbed or fixated individuals who may track them down at home.

(3) We understand that MPs have experienced examples of such disturbance and harassment.

(4) Whilst there appears to be no evidence that individuals are being discouraged from standing for elected office for this reason, it can be argued that every effort should be made to avoid that risk;

Right.

So (4) contradicts (1), (3) is more likely to do with being a politician than having your address published, and even the Honourable Member for New Forest East, Julian Lewis MP, knows that (2) is false, when he said:

Of course, if someone who is targeting a particular MP and means to track him or her down in order to do him or her harm puts in enough effort, it will be possible to do so.

The response to the consultation was summarized thus:

[The Government] received 65 responses to the consultation. The majority of the politicians who responded and the Electoral Commission favoured a change to the current position whilst electoral administrators, returning officers and the majority of the responses received from members of the public have confirmed their preference for retaining the status quo.

Why did this come about? Let’s check the record.

The story begins with the MPs’ expenses scandal. The Information Commissioner had ruled that MPs’ addresses were to be disclosed in the public interest, in controvention to the usual guidelines of the Freedom of Information Act, probably because he knew they had something to hide — which they did.

The emergency The Freedom of Information (Parliament and National Assembly for Wales) Order 2008 was debated in Parliament on 17 July 2008 to put a stop to that.

The following year the paranoid Julian Lewis inserted a new clause to the Political Parties and Election Bill (because it was “at odds” with the changes to the FOI legislation) by a vote among MPs, and the job was done. I have blogged about this here, here and here.

I don’t particularly like Julian Lewis, and his arguments about the security of MPs are extremely flawed and irrational. It is deeply unfortunate that a mind such as his has such an influence on this country’s Cold War-ready nuclear weapons policy, and other defence and terrorism related issues, being as he is now the shadow defence minister.

Paranoid nutjobs who won’t disclose their home address to the voters shouldn’t be standing for Parliament. If they can’t take the heat, go and get another job, like lobbying for BAe, and leave the place open for real representatives of the people.

5 Comments

  • 1. uberVU - social comments&hellip replies at 28th April 2010, 8:54 am :

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by thesc: Want to know if you candidate is local? Sorry, but they changed the law: http://bit.ly/aDtXt6

  • 2. Lisa Quattromini replies at 28th April 2010, 9:07 am :

    Hi,

    Thanks for highlighting this.

    I’ve been trying to find out more about the PPCs running in my constituency (Norwich South) and have been asking various questions of them.

    Seems that “does the candidate live in this constituency?” is one of the trickier ones!

    Is there any way that I, as an ordinary voting citizen, can find out which constituency they said they lived in when they registered?

    Thanks, and thanks again for the explanatory article.

    LQ

  • 3. Matthew replies at 28th April 2010, 9:34 am :

    Lisa, you can look here – http://www.yournextmp.com/seats/norwich_south – which links to the official list at http://www.norwich.gov.uk/intranet_docs/A-Z/Elections/2010/Norwich_South_Statement_and_Notice_of_Poll_NS.pdf containing the address or constituency given by the candidates.

  • 4. Lisa Quattromini replies at 28th April 2010, 10:31 am :

    Thanks Matthew – that was exactly what I was looking for.

  • 5. Julian Todd replies at 28th April 2010, 1:25 pm :

    Regarding this secrecy of addresses. If information was widely known about it, and it cost the candidates votes, they wouldn’t do it.

    Candidates who are serious about campaigning give out their phone number and address everywhere. They want people to find them.

    Matthew: I hope there is safe backup of all those notice of polls documents.

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