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Theresa May demands end to intimidation of candidates

Government to consult on new law to protect against bullying and abuse in elections.

Theresa May is to issue an appeal to politicians on all sides to take a stand for “decency tolerance and respect” as she launches a crackdown on the intimidation of parliamentary candidates.

In a speech this week to mark the centenary of women’s right to vote, the Prime Minister will say no one should have to suffer threats and bullying because they have “dared to express a political opinion”.

Following an inquiry by the Committee on Standards in Public Life in the wake of last year’s general election, she will launch a consultation on a new offence in electoral law of intimidation of candidates and their campaigners.

In her speech, Mrs May will pay tribute to those campaigners who braved “open hostility and abuse” to win the right for women to vote.

And a century on, she will say it is a cause of “deep concern” that the committee’s report found women, ethnic minority and gay candidates were disproportionately targeted in terms of the “scale, intensity and vitriol” of the abuse they received.

“In the 21st century it cannot be acceptable for any woman – or any person – to have to face threats and intimidation simply because she or he has dared to express a political opinion,” Mrs May will say.

“We can all see this change happening and I know that many share my concern about it.”

Her comments come after a week in which the Labour leader of Haringey council, Claire Kober, quit over “sexism” and “bullying” by hard left supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg was pushed and jostled when he addressed a student debate in Bristol.

The Prime Minister will warn the country faces a “permanent coarsening and toxifying” of public debate unless steps are taken to address the issue.

She will highlight the role social media and other forms of digital communication play in spreading abuse – often from behind the cloak of anonymity.

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Intimidation

“In public life, and increasingly in private conversations too, it is becoming harder and harder to conduct any political discussion, on any issue, without it descending into tribalism and rancour,” she will say.

“British democracy has always been robust and oppositional but a line is crossed when disagreement mutates into intimidation.

“When putting across your point of view becomes trying to exclude and intimidate those with whom you disagree.”

She will add: “It is time we asked ourselves seriously whether we really want it to be like this. Whether we are prepared to accept a permanent coarsening and toxifying of our public debate or whether, together, we will take a stand for decency, tolerance and respect.”

In her proposals for reform of the electoral law,  Mrs May will also will set out plans to remove the requirement for candidates for council elections to have their addresses published on the the ballot paper – bringing local elections into line with parliamentary elections.

Votes would still be told whether the candidate lived locally, and candidates will still be able to list their address if they choose to do so. Ministers hope to get the changes in place by May 2019.

The Prime Minister will say: “We will take action to make our electoral process more robust and offer greater protections for people taking part in elections.

“While intimidation is already a crime, we will consult on making it an offence in electoral law to intimidate candidates and campaigners.

“And because some candidates and their families have been targeted for abuse in their own homes, we will extend to candidates for local government the same protection which parliamentary candidates have to keep their home addresses secret.”

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