Instead of bringing in new measures which could discourage political engagement, let’s make proper use the laws we haveby Jane Merrick / September 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
During the election campaign I was with a female Labour MP when she received a death threat. I was following her around her constituency to report on the appetite for Jeremy Corbyn’s party, listening to the views of voters on their doorsteps.
She had just finished talking to a constituent when a member of her staff, who had been to a neighbouring house, came up to tell us that its resident had asked where the MP was “because I’d like to shoot her.”
Since the horrific murder of Jo Cox this kind of threat can no longer be taken lightly, as merely, say, the words of a disgruntled voter who didn’t mean to use such language but was just a bit unhappy with his bin collections.
I looked at this MP—whom I am not going to name for obvious reasons—and wondered if she was as terrified as I was. She seemed composed enough, but to hear these words when her friend and colleague had been shot in the street 11 months earlier must have been sickening and upsetting at the same time.
As we walked away down the street, I looked back at the house and saw the man, unmoving, watching us from his window.
The incident was reported to the police, but this MP and her staff continued their canvassing—because they had to. MPs must be available to their constituents, or else democracy breaks down. That is what makes them so vulnerable.
A pattern of abuse
As shocking as this death threat was, it was not unique: a BBC Radio 5 Live survey this week reported that 87 per cent of MPs received some form of abuse during the 2017 campaign, with one Labour MP saying someone threatened to bomb her office, while another had a bottle smashed on her. Diane Abbott receives sexist and racist abuse every single day—not just during an election campaign.
A toxic combination of increasing disaffection with the political class—which began with the expenses scandal but has been fuelled by the anti-establishment mood around Brexit—together with a social media culture in which MPs are dehumanised through hatred, has allowed abuse to flourish.
One radical proposal
So, what can be done? The Electoral Commission says extreme…