POLITICS

Stronger Laws Needed To Protect MPs From Abuse - Electoral Commission

Committee on Standards in Public Life is probing tirade of threats and intimidation

18/09/2017 15:12 BST | Updated 19/09/2017 11:11 BST

The law should be strengthened to protect MPs from abuse, threats and intimidation, the Electoral Commission has said. 

Candidates in the 2017 General Election suffered a litany of abuse, including threats at their own home and bullying, both online and in person, the body found after a nationwide appeal for information. 

The data has been handed to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which is investigating the intimidation of parliamentary candidates. 

The Commission has urged the Government to reform the Representation of the People Act 1983 to make it easier for police to target offenders without invalidating an election. Those who intimidate or target candidates could even be banned from voting, chiefs said. 

Their probe was launched as MPs suffer growing levels of abuse, on social media and in person, and in the wake of the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox by a far-right terrorist. 

PA Wire/PA Images
Yvette Cooper, chair of the influential Home Select Affairs Committee, has said Twitter must do more to stamp out racist and misogynistic abuse on its site

The Act also says it is an offence to exert undue influence on voters - for example, by threatening or using violence – but there is no equivalent offence in the legislation relating to the intimidation of candidates.

Many other offences have not been updated since they were first created 200 years ago, and the Commission has said the Government should seek legal advice to see if the law should be reviewed. 

The report also unearthed a worrying level of abuse, including:

  • how the internet was used to make false allegations and malicious statements about parliamentary candidates

  • how would-be MPs were harassed at the election count by members of the public and other candidates

  • how campaign posters were vandalised and volunteers delivering General Election leaflets were assaulted. 

  • candidates suffering “covert and overt bullying, dirty tricks and misogyny.”

  • one candidate tried to intimidate their rivals into standing down. 

It comes amid growing concern about the vast level of abuse being reported by politicians. 

Handout . / Reuters
Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered outside a constituency surgery in Yorkshire

Tom Hawthorn, Head of Policy at the Electoral Commission, said: “Our strong tradition of free elections are an essential part of a healthy democracy, and people should be able to stand for election and campaign without fear of abuse or intimidation.

“However, many offences in electoral law have not been reviewed or updated since they were first created in the 19th century. We urge the Government to implement proposals made last year by the UK’s Law Commissions to make it easier for everyone to understand and comply with these laws, and for the police and prosecutors to enforce them.”