Government supports council candidates being able to withhold their address from the ballot paper

For a while now general election candidates have been able to avoid having their home address published at election time. Instead of having their full address on the ballot paper, they can opt instead to have a note of whether they do or do not live in the constituency appear.

The reason for introducing this change was to help protect people against harassment or worse, both to cut the risks of it happening and also to encourage more people to stand by so doing.

Following the Committee for Standards in Public Life (CSPL)’s review of intimidation in public life, the government is now looking at making a similar change for local council elections. (It’s official response to the CSPL report doesn’t cater for the differing roles of the UK government in setting the rules for local elections across the UK given devolution; in practice this isn’t just an issue for the UK government.)

My brief posting about this on Facebook generated quite the discussion (including some shocking accounts of the sort of behaviour women in public life, in particular, are subject to).

Hence this more detailed post and also my views on the proposal:

1. I used to really dislike the idea of candidates being able to withhold their address.

2. Part of that is because many voters do want to vote for a ‘local’ candidate, and I think voters should be able to find out if that’s true about someone, if they wish. (E.g. see the evidence here).

3. But I’ve changed my mind for two reasons. One is the distressing weight of evidence about how some candidates and elected people face intimidation and harassment that is made worse by their home address being made public. There are many people, even the majority thankfully, for whom this is not a problem. But there are more than enough for whom it is for action to be sensible to consider.

4. The second reason for changing my mind is that giving your full address doesn’t actually tell voters if you live in a ward or constituency – because to know that also requires the sort of knowledge of boundaries which most voters do not have. (Remember a good chunk of voters do not even know who the Prime Minister is because they decide to spend their time being interested in other things.) Hence saying “lives in constituency/ward” or “doesn’t live in constituency/ward” is in some ways more useful for voters to be told.

5. None of this stops candidates campaigning – either about their own local commitment or about the lack of such from their opponents.

UPDATE: This legal change is now coming into force.

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