Conduct of debate in public life; the divisions which result from that in society; and the case for addressing such divisions, House of Lords, 9 May 2019

We need to safeguard our democratic structures. These changes in legislation, policy and practice need to apply to protecting representatives of local government as well as national government.


Key messages

  • Parliamentarians, councillors and other elected representatives in public life are facing significant problems of harassment, threats and intimidation. Whilst much of the focus has been on the impact on MPs, councillors can also be subjected to the same level of harassment, threats and intimidation.
  • We need to safeguard our democratic structures. These changes in legislation, policy and practice need to apply to protecting representatives of local government as well as national government.
  • Harassment, threats and intimidation of local elected representatives are completely unacceptable, and must be dealt with robustly at all levels. This includes the Government, by councils, private sector; by the police and, where relevant, by the social media companies which provide platforms for specific forms of abuse.
  • Intimidating behaviour will ultimately have an impact on who is willing to stand to be a councillor. There are questions about what this then means for our democracy and decision making, as well as for freedom of speech.
  • It is important that the public hold elected officials to account. However, when the tone of the debate intimidates and threatens individuals who are carrying out their roles, it risks having a detrimental impact on democracy at a local level.
  • The increased threat has led to councillors needing additional security measures. With this comes a cost – there is a question about how this should be funded, particularly with the pressure that council budgets are already under.
  • It is important that the electorate are able to vote for councillors who represent and reflect the make-up of their local communities. In the development of its toolkit for councils to support the role of women, parent and carer councillors, the LGA heard from candidates and councillors, particularly women, those from non-white ethnic groups and members of the LGBT+ community. These individuals have either experienced intimidation as a result of standing for election, or have been put off standing for fear of expected intimidation and abuse. The LGA is now developing a guide for councillors on handling intimidation, threats and personal safety.

Download the full briefing
Conduct of debate in public life; the divisions which result from that in society; and the case for addressing such divisions, House of Lords, 9 May 2019