Councillors plea for ‘kinder politics’ as they reveal horrific abuse
Alex Seabrook, local democracy reporter
Councillors have made a plea for a “kinder politics” after revealing the horrific abuse they face.
Abuse is regularly hurled at several Cardiff councillors, who have spoken out the vitriolic attacks they face, often from anonymous social media accounts online, and sometimes in person.
Cardiff council passed a motion on Thursday, March 18, calling for a “kinder politics” with more respect on social media.
While debating the motion, councillors listed some of the abuse they had faced, including faeces smeared on their windows, rotten food thrown into their gardens; and the devastating effects on their families.
Councillor Jayne Cowan said: “I have had a sympathy card with ‘I hope you die’ written in it; newspaper cuttings about rape; dead flowers delivered; hundreds of silent phone calls; intimidation in person; and faeces rubbed into my windows at home and on my car.
“More recently I have had bags of rotten food thrown into my garden; and a number of pornographic videos and disturbing phone calls.
“I log the issues, and was once told to watch a video from start to finish, it was several minutes long, in case there was a reference to rape. There’s not a week that goes by without some sort of abuse online.”
Cllr Ramesh Patel said: “My car got firebombed outside my house; my house got attacked; my father at that time was 75 years old, he got attacked and needed stitches. That is totally unacceptable.
“The council has had to put in extra measures, and I have had to put in extra measures for security to protect my family. I have CCTV cameras all over my property.
“I have been a councillor for close to 20 years now. I have taken a lot of abuse, I can take it but why should my family have to take it? They have to look every time they go out because they’re afraid that something could happen to them. That’s not acceptable.”
Members of the planning committee, who decide whether to approve permission for controversial developments, are particular targets for online anonymous abuse, according to Cllr Keith Jones, the chair of the committee.
He said: “I have had to meet with senior officers in this authority to express my concerns about the anonymous and vitriolic attacks that members of the planning committee receive online.
“I have broad shoulders, and I’m happy to exchange in debate with anyone who has an interest in democracy and how decisions are made in Cardiff.
“But if councillors put themselves forward to do their public duty on the planning committee, you are potentially exposing yourself to abuse, vitriol, and diatribes online. Invariably they originate from anonymous accounts.”
A plea was made to consider the mental health of those on the receiving end of online abuse.
Cllr Edward Stubbs, who put forward the motion, said: “I was texted and told to f— off while playing with my daughter. Once my notifications started pinging from anonymous accounts while I sat with my father by his intensive care bed.
“We all have good days and bad days, days when anxiety is higher or we are feeling low. Someone might just be piled on on a bad day.
“We should be mindful to post in a way that remembers there is a person with feelings, anxieties and past traumas at the end of our post.”