In July 2017 the Prime Minister commissioned the independent and respected Committee on Standards in Public Life to undertake a review into abuse and intimidation in elections. This followed concerning reports from many Parliamentary candidates, across the political spectrum, on what they experienced in the 2017 general election.
In public life, and increasingly in private conversations too, it is becoming harder and harder to conduct any political discussion, on any issue, without it descending into tribalism and rancour. Social media and digital communication, which in themselves can and should be forces for good in our democracy, are being exploited and abused, often anonymously.
British democracy has always been robust and oppositional. And I would not want this to change. We should always be free to challenge political parties’ policies and the actions of individual politicians. But a line is crossed when disagreement mutates into intimidation.
One of the most recent examples of intimidation in politics was the decision in recent days of Claire Kober, the Labour leader of Haringey Council, to sensationally quit her role. She blamed her decision on the 'sexism, bullying and undemocratic behaviour' of Momentum activists. Momentum describes itself as a grassroots campaigning network that evolved out of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership election campaign. Ms Kober told the BBC that Labour Party members would shout at her and sing songs about stalking.
Another example includes John McDonnell, the Labour Shadow Chancellor, describing Conservative Minister Esther McVey as a ‘stain on humanity’ and also repeating an activist's call for Ms. McVey to be ‘lynched’.
To any reasonable person, irrespective of their politics, this kind of abuse and behaviour is completely unacceptable and I would expect all responsible politicians to condemn it unequivocally.
In December, the Committee published a considered and thorough report. A full Government response will follow in due course. But the Prime Minister has already set out some of the action the Government will be taking on these issues.
The Government will consult on a new offence in electoral law of intimidating candidates and campaigners, building on the existing law against intimidation of voters. And both the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing will implement the Committee’s recommendations on improving the enforcement of existing criminal law. I very much welcome these proposals.