There are growing concerns about the impact an increasing level of public intimidation and toxicity of debate is having on our country’s democratic processes, particularly at a local level. Responding to these concerns, the LGA is leading on ‘civility in public life’ and this report sets out our programme of work.
One of the most pressing concerns facing those in public office at the moment is the increasing incidents of public intimidation and abuse. These attacks risk the personal safety of our members, undermine local democracy and decision-making, and can put off prospective candidates from standing. Intimidation and physical threats of violence against councillors are a real and growing concern in every area of the country. Whilst debate and having different views is all part of a healthy democracy; abuse, public intimidation and threats are designed to undermine democratic decision making by generating fear in those who represent it.
Intimidation, abuse and harassment of councillors is a crime, as it would be towards any member of the public. However, reports from LGA members indicate that there is not a consistent response from the police across the country and that there is confusion about reporting, support, the legislation, and the broader impacts for our society and democracy.
We need a wider discussion with our citizens on how they involve themselves in public debate. We collectively need to be clear that abuse, harassment, intimidation and violence is not the way for anyone to engage in modern-day politics.
Concern has also been raised about incidents of intimidation within councils, involving councillors as well as officers. If we expecting decent standards of behaviour from members of the public when they engage with councillors, then good standards of behaviour need to be modelled within the council.