Abuse of politi­cians reach­ing a tip­ping point, says watchdog

Com­mit­tee look­ing into elec­tion in­tim­i­da­tion New law may be pro­posed to re­duce ha­rass­ment

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Pe­ter Walker Po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent

A wave of in­tim­i­da­tion and abuse directed at par­lia­men­tary can­di­dates has taken Bri­tish pol­i­tics to a “tip­ping point” and risks driv­ing politi­cians out of pub­lic life, the chair of the stan­dards watchdog said.

Paul Bew, who chairs the Com­mit­tee on Stan­dards in Pub­lic Life, which Theresa May has charged with look­ing into abuse and in­tim­i­da­tion of can­di­dates at the gen­eral elec­tion, has said he may rec­om­mend new laws to com­bat the is­sue.

The prob­lem was high­lighted dur­ing a de­bate in West­min­ster Hall last week, when a num­ber of MPs out­lined their ex­pe­ri­ence of such be­hav­iour, in­clud­ing racism, an­tisemitism and death threats.

The prime min­is­ter said she was “hor­ri­fied by sto­ries from col­leagues about the scale and na­ture of the in­tim­i­da­tion, bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment they suf­fered dur­ing the gen­eral elec­tion”.

Speak­ing to BBC Ra­dio 4’s West­min­ster Hour, Lord Bew said one pos­si­bil­ity was to rec­om­mend new laws. “We are in a bad mo­ment and we have to re­spond to it,” he said. “We can­not af­ford to lose peo­ple of qual­ity in our pub­lic life and we may be ap­proach­ing a tip­ping point.”

A party po­lit­i­cal el­e­ment has emerged, with Labour ac­cus­ing the Con­ser­va­tives of por­tray­ing the is­sue as mainly one ex­pe­ri­enced by Tory can­di­dates, even though Labour MPs were abused from the right “on an in­dus­trial scale” on so­cial me­dia.

Bew said such dis­putes risked miss­ing the point: “Above all, we do need lead­er­ship from par­lia­ment it­self.” His aim, he said, was to en­sure pub­lic de­bate re­mained “vig­or­ous” but steered clear of “nas­ti­ness and ha­tred”.

Many MPs have im­proved their se­cu­rity since the Labour MP Jo Cox was mur­dered by a rightwing ex­trem­ist in 2016, but a large num­ber com­plained of a new level of ha­rass­ment in the run-up to the 8 June vote. Si­mon Hart, the Con­ser­va­tive MP who called the West­min­ster Hall de­bate, said the Tory whips’ of­fice had been deal­ing with “at least three cred­i­ble threats to col­leagues ev­ery week, in­clud­ing death threats, crim­i­nal dam­age, sex­ism, racism, ho­mo­pho­bia, an­tisemitism and gen­eral thug­gish­ness”.

He said he con­sid­ered elec­tions to be a few weeks of “ro­bust ban­ter fol­lowed by a shake of the hand” when he was first elected in 2010, but the lat­est con­test was char­ac­terised by “swastikas on elec­tion boards, of­fen­sive slo­gans on posters”.

Diane Ab­bott, the shadow home sec­re­tary, told the de­bate she suf­fered racist abuse “over and over again” ev­ery day, both on­line and off­line. “I’ve had peo­ple tweet­ing that I should be hung if ‘they could find a tree big enough to take the fat bitch’s weight’.”

Paul Bew, the chair of the Com­mit­tee on Stan­dards in Pub­lic Life, said pub­lic de­bate should be vig­or­ous but avoid ‘nas­ti­ness and ha­tred’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.