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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9 responses to “Government supports council candidates being able to withhold their address from the ballot paper”

  1. It rather falls down when you have a big rural constituency. If I was in Hawes I’d want to know whether resides in Richmond (Yorks) constituency means a mile or two away or an hour and a half’s drive away in Great Ayton.

      • There is at least one division on North Yorks CC that is the same size as most of the greater London boroughs combined, literature and canvassers arent going to get to quite a lot of voters. I’d have less of an objection if it gave ward / parish /truncated address / distance from ward that gave more information while still not giving a full address.

  2. Mark, what happens under these if if becomes difficult to distinguish between candidates on the ballot paper, particularly thinking in the less partisan rural elections where people stand as independents and potentially in parish elections with candidates from the same wider family standing e.g. two John Robinsons putting up neither showing actual address, one loathed and one loved?

    • If those two candidates are from different parties, or one from a party and one independent, then the party names/logos would differentiate them. If they are both independents and either both live in the ward or neither live in the ward… then they’ve still the question of middle names to distinguish them. Has there ever been such a combination of two independent candidates with full identical names and both either living in or not living in the ward? That would be a remarkably rare occurrence – far, far rarer than the sort of intimidation evidence the CSPL found and which this move is intended to help tackle. And even then, they could cope with it the way Ted Heath did: https://www.markpack.org.uk/107255/political-leaflets-used-look-two-edward-heaths-ballot-paper/

  3. The real issue is the lack of resources for the police to catch the perpetrators of the abuse & intimidation. Rather than ignore or try to side step the problem by hiding the candidates address, why not campaign for more resources so that the people who abuse candidates & elected officials are more likely to be caught? The only effective deterrent (to any crime) is the probability of being caught and punished for it. The higher the probability, the less likely those with criminal intentions will commit a crime.

    • John: There are many crimes where we both try to cut their incidence through security measures and want the police to act on them seriously. For example, have you ever said to anyone getting a burglar alarm, “That’s not the real issue. You shouldn’t get a burglar alarm but instead should campaign for more police resources?”. It’s not an either / or – we can think both are worth doing. It’s also worth noting that the incidence of some crimes has been hugely reduced by better security (e.g. car theft) rather than by increasing the deterrence of being caught/punished.

  4. Have to say, I agree with this. Let’s not forget the majority of councillors are ( From what I am aware ) voluntary, save for expenses.

    All citizens should subject to the same laws, regardless of position in office – for me, thats a key liberal tenant. And if we accept that as true, that means they should be as free to enjoy their family life free from undue scrutiny or harrassment as the rest of us.

  5. I’d favour “Lives in XXX Ward” for councils and “lives in YYY constituency” for Parliamentary. Being local is important.

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