Committee probes abuse of political candidates amid rise of social media

Earth Hour 2016
Earth Hour 2016

An investigation into the abuse of parliamentary candidates will examine whether measures to protect public service integrity are effective despite the rise of social media.

Setting out the terms of reference for the review, the independent Committee on Standards in Public Life said it would look to see if legislation already in place to address intimidation was enforceable and effective.

The investigation follows a wave of intimidation during the General Election campaign, and accusations from Labour and the Conservatives that the other failed to act to stamp out abuse by their members and activists after reports of racism, anti-Semitism and sexism.

The Committee, which will also consider implications for other public office holders and candidates, will report back to the Prime Minister with recommendations on how to tackle future abuse in the short and long term.

It has called for evidence and comments on whether the media or social media has changed the "nature, scale, or effect of intimidation of parliamentary candidates", and if existing legislation is sufficient address the issue.

The Committee will also look at whether the intimidation reflects "a wider change in the relationship and discourse between public office holders and the public" and if it could discourage others from standing for public office.

Lord Bew, the Committee's chairman, said: "The intimidation of candidates, MPs and other public office holders matters to everyone, not just those who have been subject to it.

"Public life and parliamentary democracy needs people from a diverse range of backgrounds to be willing to step forward.

"Abuse and intimidation cannot be acceptable within our political culture; we want to hear views on how to address this without stifling the robust debate or differences of opinion that are fundamental to our democracy.

"The Committee will be considering all evidence we receive and intend to produce a report with recommendations before Christmas."

The investigation comes after a cross-party group said political parties must do more to prepare candidates for the ruthless nature of campaigning.

The informal all-party parliamentary inquiry into electoral conduct found racism and bigotry have been "on the rise" at times since the 2015 general election.

MPs gathered in Westminster Hall to discuss the apparent rise in such behaviour and shared their own experiences of abuse earlier this month.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott told the debate that she had been subject to routine racist and sexist abuse through emails and social media, while Tory former minister Andrew Percy, a convert to Judaism, has previously spoken of how he had been called "Zionist scum".