A local election candidate has been violently assaulted in the latest in a string of incidents in which candidates have been targeted.
Carla Hales, a Conservative candidate in the Colchester BC elections was also subjected to verbal abuse and is now recovering at home. She told LGC she had her electioneering leaflets with her and was looking at pictures she had taken to post on social media when the incident happened. “I didn’t hear them coming from behind me,” she said. “Suddenly I felt three fairly quick jabs in my side, and then was called a ****ing Tory **** - I thought I’d been stabbed.”
Ms Hales said she was also aware of a local Labour candidate getting abuse on social media, which some people had dismissed by saying “words don’t matter”.
She added: “This incident goes to show that words do matter, because this sense of anger can lead to violence.”
Colchester Conservative party group leader Darium Laws responded: “Flames are fanned, including on twitter, and this is the result. Politics and democracy are sick, even at a local level.
“This is the ugly side of politics and it is an attack not just on a Conservative but an attack on democracy…I had hoped after the tragic murder of Jo Cox MP we might have learnt lessons about the way in which people with opposing views conduct themselves.”
Last week, a 22 year-old Conservative candidate for Mid Devon DC, Roddy Jaques had his windows smashed. He tweeted: “Is there any wonder that young people don’t want to get involved in politics?”
And in Coventry, police are investigating after two local election candidates standing for UKIP, Ian Rogers and Marcus Fogden, were pelted with eggs thrown at them from a passing car on Saturday, according to Coventry Live.
A senior council officer in Wakefield, Vince Macklam, told the Wakefield Express that some local election candidates “didn’t want to go out” on the campaign trail because they believed they were at risk in the current political climate.
Gillian Connolly, Wakefield Council’s Corporate Director for Business Change, said:
“Nationally, MPs and councillors have reportedly raised concerns about threats and messages sent to them in connection with the UK leaving the EU…we have been working with our local candidates to ensure they are prepared and informed whilst out working and campaigning in Wakefield to ensure they can do this freely and safely should any issues arise.
“We will also be monitoring this along with colleagues from other partner agencies such as West Yorkshire Police.”
The Electoral Commission says that it is working with the police on joint guidance about intimidation of candidates.
Local election candidates in England have been allowed to withhold their home address from the public domain for the first time ever this year, and anecdotal evidence indicates that a wide proportion of candidates have opted to keep their address private. For example, in Wakefield, the council says that of the 85 candidates standing for a seat on Wakefield Council next month, 35 (41%) have decided to withhold their address.
The change in the law was made following a report on intimidation experienced by Parliamentary candidates at the general election in June 2017 by the Committee for Standards in Public Life (CSPL). Its chair, Lord Bew, said: ”There has been persistent, vile and shocking abuse, threatened violence including sexual violence, and damage to property. It is clear that much of this behaviour is targeted at certain groups. The widespread use of social media platforms is the most significant factor driving the behaviour we are seeing.”
From July 2018 to October 2018, the Cabinet Office ran a consultation on the introduction of a new offence in electoral law on intimidating candidates and campaigners. The government has not yet confirmed whether it will be taking the plans forward.
An LGA spokesperson said: “Councillors and those standing for election can unfortunately be the subject of public intimidation at election time, which is partly due to the widespread use and proliferation of social media.
“This has given extra opportunities for people to get in touch with their local candidates, which is positive for democracy but can also be used to threaten and intimidate those who wish to represent their communities.
“People from all backgrounds and walks of life should continue to be encouraged to put themselves forward for election and participate in local democracy, in a free, safe and open environment.”