MPs speak out about ‘sinister’ election abuse

Media captionMP ‘astonished’ by scale of abuse

MPs have spoken about the abuse and intimidation they were subjected to during the general election.

Conservative Simon Hart said colleagues were targeted for their sexuality, religious beliefs and social background by people who were intent on “driving them out of politics altogether”.

Labour’s Diane Abbott said she had had a torrent of “mindless” racist and sexist abuse including death threats.

Ministers have announced an inquiry by the standards watchdog.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life will look at the nature of the problem of intimidation, considering the current protections and measures in place for candidates, reporting back to the prime minister.

Cabinet Office minister Chris Skidmore said harassment could not be tolerated and the integrity of the UK’s democracy and public service must be upheld.

Graphic language

During an hour-long debate in Westminster Hall, MPs detailed how they have faced racist abuse, anti-Semitism, death threats from supporters of rival parties on social media, as well as physical intimidation and threats.

Using strong and graphic language, Diane Abbott gave examples of the offensive sexist and racist messages and “mindless abuse” she and her staff had to endure every day on social media, not just at election time.

The shadow home secretary said abuse of MPs was not new but it had been “turbo charged” by the speed and anonymity of social media. She added that male MPs get abuse “but it is much worse for women”.

Media captionDiane Abbott describes ‘racist, sexist’ abuse

Mr Hart said he had heard of candidates having swastikas painted on their offices and windows smashed while he said the “hashtag Tory scum had become a regular feature of our lives” on social media.

While elections used to be about winning votes and arguments, he suggested that the 2017 poll was characterised by efforts by individuals and groups to silence people who did not agree with them.

Media captionEvery MP faces abuse says SNP spokesman

Urging a review of current laws, he said it was up to leaders of all the political parties to condemn such actions and say “not in my name” rather than issuing “mealy-mouthed messages of condemnation” on Twitter.

“It is not about thin-skinned politicians having a bit of a bruising time and feeling a bit sorry for themselves. It is about families, staff, helpers and volunteers.”

Conservative MP Andrew Percy said he had been subjected to anti-Semitic abuse while his staff had been spat at. While he was used to being challenged by opponents, he said “something more sinister” was going on in the country.

Labour’s Paula Sheriff said the 2017 election had been the “most brutal” to date.

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Labour said it had fought a “positive, hopeful campaign”

She said this kind of abuse had been going on for years but what had changed in recent times was the increasing connection between “online abuse and commentary in the mainstream media”.

She added: “It is not about a particular party or particular faction. It is about the degradation of political discourse online.”

Women and ethnic minority candidates were particularly vulnerable, according to a report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, which is calling for tougher discipline by parties.

Media captionLabour MP defends Corbyn over abuse

The Conservatives and Labour have accused each other of not doing enough to stop it.

In a letter to Conservative Party chairman Sir Patrick McLoughlin ahead of the debate Labour chairman Ian Lavery and Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement, say: “Abuse against candidates on social media is completely unacceptable.

“The Conservative Party perpetrated this on an industrial scale by spending millions of pounds to post highly personalised and nasty attack adverts on voters’ Facebook timelines without their permission.”

‘Audacity’

Conservative MP Nus Ghani told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I am a Conservative, I am a woman, I am Asian and I am Muslim and that makes some people very angry.

“And the fact that I had the audacity to stand for public office causes some people offence.”

On Monday, Prime Minister Theresa May asked whether Jeremy Corbyn was doing enough in response to complaints of intimidation, saying she was “surprised at any party leader who’s not willing to condemn that”.

The Labour leader has repeatedly said personal attacks have no place in the party.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper said some of her party’s supporters had targeted female Conservative MPs – as well as Labour members – with “vitriolic abuse”.

MPs speak out about ‘sinister’ election abuse}

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