Labour MPs have lined up to urge the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) to take tougher action against online and offline abuse.
Speaking at the weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), Stella Creasy and John Mann both highlighted the sexist and anti-semitic harassment they and their families had endured in recent months.
The PLP meeting, which also heard a string of MPs warn against ‘illegal’ interference in local council policies by the ruling NEC, saw Creasy and Mann demand tougher action against those guilty of abuse.
The meeting was told that party members, including some who had been suspended, had allegedly harassed their local MP and those close to them.
Other MPs raised the alleged harassment received by Haringey Council’s outgoing leader Claire Kober, who this weekend revealed she’d been subjected to stalking threats, intimidation and sexist and anti-semitic abuse.
The MPs spoke ahead of a speech in Manchester by Theresa May on Tuesday, to mark the 100th anniversary of the first British women being given the right to vote.
The Prime Minister was set to warn that “intimidation and aggression” on social media is coarsening public debate, deterring people from participating in politics and threatening British democracy.
Creasy made an impassioned plea for action as she detailed how she and her family had been targeted for over 20 months and demanded to know why the party had allowed suspended members to continue with misconduct.
Fellow MPs fear she is being singled out as part of a wider campaign to make her more vulnerable to deselection by local leftwingers.
At least three prominent cases of alleged anti-semitism, including Ken Livingstone’s case, have been investigated for months by the party’s National Constitutional Committee (NCC) and have yet to be resolved.
Mann, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism, has received heavy abuse since he appeared on the BBC’s Question Time last week.
Party general secretary Iain McNicol explained that anyone suspended was still expected to conform with party standards on conduct.
“Stella and John were both deservedly strident. Their families have been targeted and the behaviour of some who purport to be members is disgraceful and should be more easily tackled than the current rules or NEC seem to want,” one of the MPs present told HuffPost UK.
The meeting also saw several MPs criticise the NEC for its decision last month to urge Haringey Council to ‘pause’ its Haringey Development Vehicle following opposition from councillors and residents.
MPs said that instructing local councils how to run their planning policies was illegal and would also undermine devolved accountability.
PLP chairman John Cryer said the NEC had not issued instruction but had instead voted unanimously to recommend mediation between those who backed and those who opposed the HDV.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Women’s Hour, the Prime Minister previewed her speech by saying politicians were particularly vulnerable to abuse.
“We have very sadly seen an increase in what I would say is a sort of aggressive attitude in politics, which means that I think we do, and we have seen increased intimidation of candidates, parliamentary candidates, most often focused on women,” she said.
“And that’s why I think it’s right that we are consulting on a new offence of intimidation of parliamentary candidates and campaigners.
“I think we also see, sadly, women often suffering from bullying and harassment on social media. And this is across the political spectrum. You know, in my party Esther McVey has particularly suffered from this but Luciana Berger on the Labour benches has suffered from this.
“I think we need to just step back and say that sadly this is, will lead, I think is leading to some women feeling that they don’t want to put their head above the parapet, they don’t want to take part in public life.”
May is set to announce a new annual internet safety transparency report, to provide data on what offensive content is being reported, how social media companies are responding to complaints - and what material is being removed.
A Law Commission review of the legislation relating to offensive online communications, will also be conducted “to ensure that the criminal law, which was drafted long before the creation of social media platforms, is appropriate to meet the challenges posed by this new technology.”
A new social media code of practice will be published later this year setting out clearly the minimum standards expected of firms like Facebook and Twitter.
In a speech in Manchester, the birthplace and home of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, May was expected to say: “It is online where some of the most troubling behaviour now occurs…
“As well as being places for empowering self-expression, online platforms can become places of intimidation and abuse.
“This squanders the opportunity new technology affords us to drive up political engagement, and can have the perverse effect of putting off participation from those who are not prepared to tolerate the levels of abuse which exist.”
A Labour spokesman said: “The Labour party takes all instances of anti-Semitism extremely seriously and is committed to challenging it in all its forms.
“Any complaints of anti-Semitism are investigated and acted upon in line with Labour’s procedures.”