The intimidation of public office holders, particularly on social media, has been a regular feature of Committee discussion in recent years. Indeed, the impact of social media and the need to recognise public service have been on the Committee’s mind for some time and were both raised by a number of contributors at our recent horizon-scanning event.
Today the Prime Minister has announced that she has asked the Committee to carry out a review to look at:
The intimidation of Parliamentary candidates, including those who stood in the recent election, and the implications for other candidates for public office and public office holders. The review will examine the nature of the problem and consider whether measures already in place to address such behaviour are sufficient to protect the integrity of public service; and whether such measures are effective, especially given the rise of social media, and enforceable.
We have been asked to produce a report for the Prime Minister, including recommendations for action focused on what could be done in the short- and long-term, and identifying examples of good practice.
It’s not a typical piece of work for us. Our role - promoting the Nolan principles of public life - focuses on promoting high standards of public office holders themselves, but we have agreed to conduct this piece of work because of the wider negative impact on public life.
How candidates for office and holders of office are treated inevitably has an impact on who is willing to stand for office, how those in office conduct themselves, and how they relate to members of the public. The Nolan principles of public life rely on the existence of a shared understanding of procedures and practices within a broader public culture of civility, tolerance and mutual respect. It is difficult to promote and encourage the implementation of the Nolan principles without addressing concerns about changes in that wider culture.
Intolerance and vitriolic behaviour have not been confined to representatives of any single party: Yvette Cooper, Sheryll Murray, Byron Davies and Diane Abbott have all talked candidly about this issue. Neither will this review seek to reduce the role of legitimate scrutiny of those standing or holding public office from legitimate scrutiny by the public of the press which is a critical function of our democracy.
I am clear that this is not to be a case of ‘special pleading’ on behalf of MPs; indeed, the Committee has a reputation for producing evidence-based recommendations that have not always been easy for Parliament to swallow. Equally, any recommendations we make will have relevance for others who serve the public. But recent abuse and intimidation of election candidates and other public figures, and the wider issues about the role and treatment of those in public service must be discussed and addressed. The public have a right to be angry and hostile on occasions – but, if the political culture is to respond constructively to people’s concerns, it cannot be in an atmosphere of intimidation, demeaning personal abuse, and threats of violence.
These issues have touched MPs across the political spectrum, of which the tragic murder of Jo Cox in 2016 serves as a shocking, extreme example. The First report from this Committee, under the Chairmanship of Lord Nolan, makes much of the proud tradition of public service in the UK. So many important institutions – Parliament, schools, public bodies, juries - rely on individuals stepping forward to serve the public. Taking a public role carries responsibilities of its own, but should not leave anyone living in fear.
We hope that anyone with an interest in or experience of these issues will contribute to this piece of work. More details will be published on our website in due course.
Comment by Gary Gordon posted on
I was going to try and write, in a way you would understand, why I feel our politicians disgust me. Here is a piece, by a politician, that speaks the way I feel far better than I ever could.
Laura Pidcock gives her maiden speech...
"I wanted to express the widespread feeling that the House of Commons represents a system of fear, oppression and privilege for so many people, past and present. I also wanted to convey that it should not be respected by virtue of its opulence or longevity, but that respect for our parliament in 2017 must be earned, by eradicating the crushing poverty and inequality that exists in Britain. I wanted to show quite directly my frustration at sitting opposite people who know nothing of the communities they so confidently talk about and lord over.
My disdain for the government and the cold-hearted, dystopian nightmare it has become only increased when the vote on Labour’s amendment to the Queen’s speech (which sought to lift the pay freeze on poorly paid and undervalued public sector workers) was announced. The government won the vote, we lost, and the coalition with the Democratic Unionist party bore fruit – for the Tories, at least.
In their glory, the Conservatives cheered. They laughed, they smiled, and gestured to us like kids in a playground. But it was far from a joke. To me, their laughter was blood-curdling: they were laughing at the very emergency and public services that they praise when it suits their purpose. To laugh at freezing a person’s wages is grotesque, and proof that they are completely disconnected from the people they have the privilege to represent. In real terms, this was a reaffirmation of a pay cut, and I view with utter contempt Boris Johnson’s mutterings that he would like the pay freeze to end. It is nothing more than playing politics in preparation for a leadership bid.
To have your wages fall in value year after year places a heavy weight on a professional person’s soul. To have your endeavours devalued, to have to deal with the cumulative effects of state-sponsored austerity, and then to have the decision-makers laugh at you as their “deal” comes to fruition must have been truly sickening."
That it from a person who has not yet been contaminated by the system. How did the system ever get into such a state where to politicians it is all just a game. The losers are always the public and never the policy makers. I HATE THE SYSTEM.
Before you dismiss this ladies comments, there was another lady who saw the same in your system.
The youngest MP elected to parliament in more than 350 years has said she may not stand for a second term because she hates Westminster and so little gets done.
Mhairi Black, who was 20 when she won the seat of Paisley and Renfrewshire South for the SNP from Labour’s Douglas Alexander in 2015, says she finds parliament “depressing” and “defunct”.
She told the Sunday Post she had not got used to working in Westminster: “It has been nearly two years and I still hate the place,” she said. “It is depressing. It is the personal elements – it is a pain to come up and down every week and you are working with a number of people you find quite troubling.
“Professionally, it is more just that so little gets done. It is so old and defunct in terms of its systems and procedures – a lot of the time, it is just a waste of time.”
Stop looking elsewhere and try looking in the mirror.