In Brief

Abuse of UK politicians at 'tipping point', says watchdog

Lord Bew compares level of vitriol and threats to the Troubles in Northern Ireland

The amount of personal abuse aimed at politicians and election candidates has reached "tipping point", the head of the Commons standards watchdog said.

Lord Bew, who chairs the committee on standards in public life, told BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour British politics was at a "dangerous moment" and that the level of vitriol might deter people from running for office.

"We cannot afford to lose people of quality in our public life and we may be approaching a tipping point," he said.

In what the Sunday Telegraph calls "a dire warning", the peer added that the "threat culture" was reminiscent of that seen during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, which he experienced first-hand.

Last week, MPs from all parties spoke about the harassment they and they staff had received in person and online, including death threats, rape threats and anti-Semitic abuse.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said she had been subjected to "a torrent of mindless, racist and sexual abuse", the BBC reports. She gave examples of the offensive messages she and her staff had to endure every day, not just at election time, including people tweeting that she should be hanged.

"I've had rape threats [and have been] described as a pathetic, useless, fat, black, piece of s**t, ugly, fat, black b***h," she said.

Conservative MP Simon Hart mentioned cases of candidates having swastikas carved into election posters and their offices being urinated on. He also said the #ToryScum hashtag had become "a regular feature of our lives" on social media, prompting former cabinet minister David Jones to describe logging on to Twitter to "wading through sewage; it is a deeply unpleasant experience".

Theresa May has ordered an inquiry into political intimidation. Led by Lord Bew, it "will look into what went on during the election campaign and whether existing laws need to be strengthened to protect candidates in future", says the BBC.

The Telegraph reports that Facebook and Twitter bosses will be ordered to give evidence, "amid claims they have failed to remove abusive messages". They will also be asked to look at ways to stop online trolls using anonymous social media accounts to abuse politicians.

But while MPs acknowledged the rise of social media in facilitating abuse, many "disagreed about the causes and motivations", says The Guardian. Several Conservatives attributed higher levels of intimidation to supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, including the left-wing group Momentum, and said the Labour leader had not done enough to discourage name-calling and threats.

"The elephant in the room here is it is being motivated by the language of some of our political leaders when they accuse people of one political side of murder when they dehumanise them," former Tory minister Andrew Percy said.

According to The Independent, the accusation was likely to "infuriate [Corbyn], who has repeatedly condemned abusive behaviour by Labour activists in the past". 

Labour, in turn, has accused the Conservatives of running a "nasty campaign", full of smears and untruths about opponents.

Former Labour frontbencher Yvette Cooper said both parties should avoid getting bogged down in a tit-for-tat row. "The problem is not just about the targeting of MPs," she said. "It is about the nature of the public and political debate in our democracy."

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