New Code of Conduct for party campaigners published by Electoral Commission


The new version of the Electoral Commission’s code of conduct is now out, with the full version embedded above (and some associated information from the Electoral Commission here.)

As ever there is some controversy over both the principle and the details.

I’m sympathetic to the principle of having a code that parties sign up to as it can be both more detailed and more flexible than relying solely on legislation, whilst also giving political campaigners more certainty than relying on the police and CPS discretion. It’s been right that the Liberal Democrats have signed up to it in all previous years and that, for example, the English Party has made it explicit that failing to follow the code can be grounds for expulsion from the party.

The difficulty with a voluntary code is both that people can decide to ignore it yet¬†also that for the major parties it is in effect a mandatory code they have to sign up to come-what-may as you can imagine the media coverage for them that would follow from a refusal (something that would not hit lower-profile¬†smaller parties or independents in the same way). It’s not really an option for the Lib Dems not to sign yet – but look at what Respect does in Tower Hamlets and it’s clear there that Lib Dems are following one set of rules and Respect another.

As a result long-running low-key arguments over its contents have never really been resolved and so the current code both says:

Campaigners should be free to encourage voters to register to vote and apply to vote by post or appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf, if that is the most convenient way for them to vote.

and also:

Campaigners should never encourage electors to have their postal ballot pack redirected to anywhere other than the address where they are registered to vote.

Note the use of “never” in the second quote. Even if you are on the doorstep, talking to a voter who has explained they aren’t intending to vote because they are moving a few days before polling day, under this code you are not meant to say, “Why don’t you get a postal vote and ask for it to be sent to your new address?”.

Redirection of postal votes to dodgy addresses has been a big problem in some places, so some provision make sense. Just not this one.

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