A few months ago there was quite a controversy in Parliament over attempts to allow MPs to keep their home addresses secret at election time. A large part of the controversy stemmed from the unsatisfactory way part of the debate was handled in Parliament – which fuelled suspicion about some MPs wanting to keep their addresses secret in order to make it harder for people to work out whether they were exploiting rules over Parliamentary expenses.
Anyway, after debate back and forth the law was changed and the new rules are now in force, courtesy of the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009. These rules only apply to Parliamentary elections and by-elections, so the first outing for them is likely to be in the by-election to replace Michael Martin.
What, then, do the rules say?
Candidates will no longer have to provide their home address on the nomination paper, but instead will put it on a separate form. They can then opt to have their full address left off both the statement of persons nominated and ballot papers. In that case, the constituency – or, if they live outside the UK, the country – in which they live will be used instead.
If they do opt out in this way, the form with their home address can still be inspected by, amongst other people, the agents of other candidates. There will therefore be an opportunity to check up on questions of dubious nominations.
Alternatively, candidates can stick with the existing rules and have their full address appear on both the ballot papers and on the statement of persons nominated.
Although I’m very dubious about the arguments deployed as to why Parliamentary candidates should be able to withhold their addresses, the law we’ve ended up with should work reasonably. Candidates can chose whether or not to exercise the option, they can explain their choices to the public, the choices will be obvious on the ballot paper and the public can then be swayed or not as they wish.
With one Parliamentary by-election pending and a general election at most only a few months away, we will soon see if that is how things turn out.