Call to do more to protect councillors from abuse and threats before local elections
More action is needed to protect councillors from abuse and threats, the Local Government Association has warned.
The call comes ahead of Thursday’s local elections, when Wales, as well as Scotland and parts of England, will head to the polls.
Cllr James Jamieson, chairman of the Local Government Association (LGA), said that an “increasing number” of candidates are being subjected to “abuse, threats and intimidation”, both in person and online.
The LGA is a membership body for local authorities in Wales and England. Its core membership is made up of 339 English councils and the 22 Welsh councils through the Welsh Local Government Association.
Jamie Jamieson warned that this abuse “poses a threat” to democracy, and called for evidence of it to be presented to the LGA.
It comes after North Wales Senedd Member Sam Rowlands said last week that he believed the lack of candidates in some locations had been caused by concerns over personal attacks on politicians on the internet.
The former leader of Conwy Council said the issue was not only causing existing councillors to quit, but also deterring prospective candidates from standing.
Tory councillor James Jamieson echoed those concerns, saying that he was “aware that an increasing number of councillors and candidates are being subjected to abuse, threats and intimidation both online and in-person, undermining the principles of free speech, democratic engagement and debate”.
Mr Jamieson added that he supported the proposed ban on running for election for anyone who has intimidated candidates, councillors and campaigners.
“Abuse of public servants is never acceptable and poses a threat to democracy,” he said.
“We support the inclusion of a provision to ban anyone who has intimidated candidates, councillors and campaigners from standing for election or holding public office in the Elections Bill which is currently going through parliament. However, more may be needed to protect councillors and local democracy.
“As well as highlighting our councillor Guide to Handling Intimidation, we continue to call for evidence of abuse and intimidation of councillors across the country to further understand the experience of councillors and to ensure robust measures can be taken to tackle this growing issue.”
Speaking in the Senedd on Wednesday, Sam Rowlands said: “I’m really concerned at seeing that number of uncontested seats, with 28 of those being in Gwynedd and 19 in Pembrokeshire.
“It’s really disappointing that that’s taking place, removing the ability for what I would see as proper democracy to take place via a vote.
“I’m sure you saw the BBC news article earlier this month that did highlight, regretfully, that online abuse has forced many councillors to quit or no longer want to stand, along with potential candidates who simply don’t want to be on the receiving end of that bullying.
“An example of this was from Huw George, who is a Baptist minister in Pembrokeshire, who said he’s always welcomed the scrutiny of political decisions but personal attacks on both his use of the Welsh language and on his faith are completely unacceptable.”
Addressing Local Government Minister Rebecca Evans, he added: “Minister, would you agree with me that this needs addressing?
“Our councillors and candidates should not be receiving this horrid personal abuse.”
On Friday, it was announced that individual MPs are to be given “bespoke” security advice on any threats they may face following a review carried out in the wake of the murder of Sir David Amess.
The Southend MP was stabbed by Islamic State fanatic Ali Harbi Ali at a constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, last October in twisted revenge for a vote on Syrian air strikes.
While Labour MP Jo Cox was stabbed and shot by far-right extremist Thomas Mair in Birstall, West Yorkshire, just days before the Brexit referendum in June 2016.
Details of the support that will be given to MPs remain confidential for security reasons.
However, it is understood that a new multi-agency team will look at the threat faced by individual MPs and recommend what measures they should take to protect themselves and their staff.
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