Read All About It?

Candidates’ leaflets for the Witney constituency are now viewable here. As of today, two candidates – Aaron Barschak (Independent) and Howling Laud Hope (Monster Raving Loony) – seem not to have distributed any so how they plan to get votes is a mystery.

These two, along with Joe Goldberg (Labour) and Nikolai Tolstoy (UKIP), are also shy of telling us their addresses, hiding behind new rules that allow actual and prospective elected representatives to lock themselves away from the public gaze. Are they afraid of terrorists? Then why any of these four gentlemen should flatter themselves that they might be a target is another mystery. If the other six candidates have nothing to hide, why do they? At least a party candidate can be contacted via the party to seek information on his or her views. An Independent who won’t declare his address might as well be on the moon.

We might ask what our society is coming to when those running for public office even have the right not to tell us any longer where they live, let alone exercise it. Transparency is a fundamental part of our democratic inheritance from the Victorians, an inheritance that is poorly understood and appreciated, with the result that electoral reforms since 1997 have arguably created more problems than they have solved. The failure to recognise that extending postal voting would magnify opportunities for fraud is one such example.

We understand New Labour’s motivation for secrecy but we do not therefore respect it: politicians should be protected by the normal civil and criminal law and deserve no special protection simply because they are politicians. Those who are determined to find out where someone lives will do so anyway and such knowledge is not in itself objectionable. Rather than accepting the growth of a culture of intimidation and adapting to it, efforts should focus on deterring crime of all kinds, but especially that directed against the democratic process of free debate and decision.

If some of our politicians live in fear, they should examine their consciences. Thomas Jefferson observed that when the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty. When it comes to striking a balance, things are a whole lot safer under the second scenario than under the first.

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