Should candidates have to publish their tax status?

Last year, the Committee on Standards in Public Life made one of those simple suggestions which make you think, “Why haven’t people been suggesting this for years?”

Their proposal was that in a general election candidates should have to make the same sort of declaration of financial interests as MPs have to make. After all, if the point of such declarations is to have some transparency and let people judge politicians, doesn’t it make sense to provide that information to the public before we decide how to vote rather than only telling us afterwards whether perhaps we should regret our vote?

In an all too rare acknowledgement of the problems of changing election law at the last moment, the Ministry of Justice said it was too late to change the law in time for the 2010 general election. However, rather quietly a few days ago the department instead slipped out a recommended set of financial declarations that candidates, if they choose, can make.

Producing this voluntary scheme so close to the election is not exactly ideal, but even worse the scheme goes significantly beyond what MPs have to declare. Rather than keeping to the Committee’s logic that candidates should declare what they would have to declare anyway if they won, the MoJ has added in some further ideas. All without debate or cross-party agreement.

The Ministry has also rather stumbled both by making some errors in the document and by its means of sending it out. As one recipient pointed out:

Amusingly, in sending the code by email to PPCs (and to me as an agent), the Ministry of Justice broke the first law of data protection in mass mailings, by identifying the email addresses of every recipient!

However the real meat of controversy is likely to be over non-doms as candidates are asked to declare if:

I confirm that, for the tax year 2008/09, I have not claimed to be, or been treated as not resident, not ordinarily resident or non-domiciled in the UK for tax purposes.

Personally, I’d be quite happy for MPs or the Committee on Standards in Public Life to have made a decision saying candidates should have to make such a declaration. But in the absence of such a decision – and in the absence too of cross-party agreement in advance of the document’s publication, this smacks far too much of a last moment unilateral political wheeze.

Whether it all matters depends on the level of publicity the document gets and whether there is therefore real pressure on candidates to make their declarations. So far, aside from my coverage, the document has pretty much passed without notice. That may yet change of course and it could only take one local controversy to trigger the media’s attention.

2 responses to “Should candidates have to publish their tax status?”

  1. It’s a piece of gross stupidity. You know better than me that most candidates stand in the knowledge that they won’t win. Lots of those wouldn’t stand if there was any danger of their actually being elected. Their candidacy lasts a few weeks and after that they are of no interest to the public, and the public has no right to know details about them – unless, of course, they decide to stand again. So why should their personal affairs be forever available as a public record?

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