Westminster Hall Debate, Khan review on threats to Social Cohesion and Democratic Resilience, 30 April

There is a growing threat to democracy and social cohesion posed by conspiracy theories, disinformation and extremist activity, in particular the appalling abuse of councillors.

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Key Messages

  • There is a growing threat to democracy and social cohesion posed by conspiracy theories, disinformation and extremist activity, in particular the appalling abuse of councillors. Councils are reporting unprecedented challenges to community cohesion in the wake of events in the Middle East, councillors have also faced threats from Covid vaccine conspiracy theorists, and for a number of other reasons.
  • Councils have a key role in tackling threats to community cohesion and the LGA’s Special Interest Group on Countering Extremism (SIGCE) has been supporting that role for several years. The SIGCE, was set up in 2017 with Home Office support to promote peer-to-peer learning and knowledge exchange between councils on counter extremism. the SIGCE was established as part of a counter extremism initiative which also supported the Building A Stronger Britain Together (BSBT) fund and provided targeted support for 45 councils. When Government funding ceased in 2020 the LGA’s Safer and Stronger communities Board decided to continue funding for the SIGCE.
  • Council cohesion initiatives have been particularly hard to maintain in recent years due to the lack of funding, and the burden has often fallen on Prevent teams. Nevertheless important work is still being undertaken in the sector.
  • Councils have long been at the heart of facilitating partnership responses to threats to public safety. Councils organise community safety partnerships and safeguarding boards as part of their statutory functions, and every council in the country develops bespoke partnerships in response to local issues.
  • Councils have long been at the heart of facilitating partnership responses to threats to public safety. Multi-agency working partnerships between statutory agencies, and non-traditional partners- comprised of businesses, faith, and community groups- would exemplify a culture where information can be shared freely to help partners understand a situation and derive joint decisions to solve issues. 
  • Multi-agency working would allow councils and agencies to work together to ensure that their responses to issues are co-ordinated, complementary and (where possible) delivered together with a unity of purpose.
  • Being able to communicate effectively with communities is key to demonstrating the rejection of extremism and hate crime and to highlight the leadership role of the local authority. Given the modern diversity of media and the many different means within which communities receive information, a dedicated communications strategy can be vital in ensuring key messages go to the right people at the right time. 
  • The LGA’s Debate Not Hate campaign aims to raise public awareness of the role of councillors in their communities, encourage healthy debate and improve the responses and support for local politicians facing abuse and intimidation.
  • We have called for the Government department to convene a working group, in partnership with the LGA, to bring together relevant agencies to develop and implement an action plan to address the issue of abuse and intimidation of local politicians and their safety.


DLUHC published The Khan Review in March 2024, in which the Government’s independent social cohesion adviser outlines current threats to social cohesion and democratic resilience. The report notes a growing and dangerous climate of threatening and intimidatory harassment of politicians, including councillors, and adds that councils are on the frontline of tackling threats to social cohesion. The report highlights the LGA’s Debate not Hate campaign as an exemplar in attempting to address the abuse and intimidation of councillors. 

Freedom-restricting harassment (FRH) is the wide-spread phenomenon of extreme forms of harassment leading individuals into silence, self-censoring, or abandoning their democratic rights. 

Reported hate crime in the UK has risen every year over the past decade, from 39,000 crimes in 2013 to 114,000 crimes in 2021. Whilst an increase in reporting may be seen as a positive (eg there is an increased trust in the state to respond to reports), short-term trends – including a rise of a third in racially and religiously aggravated offences between 2020 and 2021 – suggests a significant issue damaging community cohesion.

Councils have an essential role to play in building and maintaining cohesive communities but have been limited by a lack of funding for counter-extremism and community cohesion work while facing significant budgetary pressures. Councils need urgent funding to counter extremism and misinformation, with the restoration of Special Interest Group on Countering Extremism (SIGCE) funding and effective regional support.

Civility in public life

The LGA’s Civility in Public Life Programme and Debate Not Hate campaign aim to improve the quality of political and public discourse and tackle the growing issues of abuse, intimidation and harassment of councillors. Our main concerns include police support for locally elected members and the availability of councillors home addresses on public registers of interests.

According to a 2023 survey, 8 in 10 councillors experience abuse in their public role and feel at risk while fulfilling their elected role. We believe this is having a real effect on councillors and councils locally, deterring people from getting into politics, staying for more than one term or putting themselves forward for leadership positions.

This is affecting some groups more than others; we know that already underrepresented groups like women, LGBTQIA+ people and Black and ethnic minority people are reporting higher levels of more vitriolic abuse.

The LGA has been working with councils to improve their support for councillors and working with the police and Government at a national level to improve support for councillor safety – this has been picked up to a certain extent, with recent announcements of £31 million of additional police funding for security of elected officials. We are still awaiting detail on how this will be implemented.

We support new regulations to exclude security expenses from campaign expenditure but agree that more work is needed to ensure such provision is not needed.

We agree more needs to be done. Key asks we have:

  • We have been lobbying for Government to amend the Localism Act 2011 to put it beyond doubt that councillors shouldn’t have to publish their home address on the register of interests. The Government agree in principle, but are yet to legislate. 
  • We are also working with councils to improve their preparedness for abusive and threatening incidents at council meetings, events and directed against councillors. We’re seeing some councils put in place additional security for members safety at council meetings. This adds additional costs on the council, which are currently not well understood.

The LGA's Debate Not Hate campaign toolkit includes a range of suggested actions and resources councillors and councils can get involved with, including social media assets, posters and template letters for councils and councillors. MPs are welcome to add their support to the campaign by signing up to the statement.


Iredia Oboh
Public Affairs and Campaigns Manager
Phone: 020 7664 3127
Mobile: 07584234794
Email: [email protected]