Speaker of the Commons: We must end the hatred directed at our MPs

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Speaker of the Commons: We must end the hatred directed at our MPs


House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has demanded ‘an end to hatred’ against MPs and a kinder form of political speech in the wake of Sir David Amess’ fatal stabbing, as evidence s ‘are mounting shockingly high levels of intimidation and threats. daily by elected officials and their staff.

In a highly unusual intervention for a Speaker of the House of Commons, Hoyle makes an appeal as he writes in the Observer. He describes the late Conservative MP and father of five as a friend who regularly visited his office for a chat and as “a man who has found a connection to everyone, no matter where they are from.”

On Saturday, political leaders showed unity and solidarity with Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer, as well as Hoyle and Home Secretary Priti Patel, together laying wreaths at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on -Sea, Essex, where Amess died after being stabbed multiple times while undergoing surgery in his constituency on Friday. A man was arrested shortly after the attack and is still in custody.

The suspect, named by law enforcement sources Ali Harbi Ali, 25, is said to be a British national of Somali descent, who was reportedly referred to the Prevent program but not listed in MI5’s database of persons of interest. Detectives received a warrant on Saturday to detain him until October 22.

Hoyle, who reveals how he decided to set up his own two-hour surgery just four hours after learning of Amess’s murder, says that while security for MPs now needs to be reviewed, there is a larger issue regarding the levels of hatred and intimidation in politics that needs to be addressed.

“If anything positive is to come out of this latest terrible tragedy,” he says, “it is that the quality of political discourse has to change. The conversation should be more friendly and based on respect. While many MPs privately confide that they are regularly threatened with death on social media, Hoyle adds, “The hatred that fuels these attacks must stop. Disagreements with politicians should be resolved at the ballot box and not through threats, intimidation or murder. “

The Observer understands that the House of Commons Committee, chaired by Hoyle, which deals with security matters relating to Members of Parliament, has been informed of hundreds of reports of abuse and serious threats against members – including death threats – in the in recent months. A high profile source in Westminster said the number of people currently in jail or awaiting trial for threatening or mistreating MPs was “staggering”. “It’s a British disease,” the source said. “The numbers are horrible. It’s an epidemic. “

Lindsay Hoyle in the Speaker’s Chair during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons. Photograph: Jessica Taylor / AP

Shailesh Vara, Tory MP for North-West Cambridgeshire and former cabinet minister, said the type of language people use when communicating with MPs, whether on social media or through other means, is becoming more and more in addition hostile and aggressive and affected Members of Parliament staff as well as elected officials.

“Calling me the C word or calling politicians like me bastards and using nasty, aggressive tones is normal for some people these days. What they don’t realize is that it’s not just us they’re abusing. It’s our staff, people who are just trying to do a job, trying to earn enough to put food on the table, pay their mortgages and pay the bills.

“With the volume of correspondence we receive now, we need staff. Not that long ago, MPs got about 20 letters a week, they all shared a secretary, and an MP could write 20 handwritten letters to these constituents and everything was fine. Now I can receive over 25 emails in less than an hour.

Jade Botterill, former assistant to Labor MP Yvette Cooper, said she had quit politics due to abuses against her boss, who is a former Cabinet minister. “I would come in and all I would do is go to Facebook and report death threats and delete them,” said Botterill, who worked for Cooper from 2013 to 2019. “I think I have it. reported over 1,000 death threats. I couldn’t sleep, ”she told BBC Radio 4 Today program. “I would have these nightmares that I was in the office with Yvette and someone came to see her and killed her.” “

Senior Conservative MP Charles Walker, who is a member of the Commons Committee, which will meet on Monday to discuss the implications of Amess’ murder, said: “Living in fear has become an integral part of the lives of many. my colleagues. Many have the incredible ability to compartmentalize this part of their lives, but it shouldn’t be. “

Some MPs have complained that they have given up on reporting problems to the police because threats are often not taken seriously unless someone has been physically threatened.

Harriet Harman, the former Labor deputy leader, is pushing for a multi-party summit with the security services to discuss how to improve security. Some MPs have privately expressed their wish to relocate or end walk-in surgeries in their constituencies due to the risks they and their staff face. In 2015-2016, the amount spent on MPs’ security was only £ 171,000. By 2017-18, that figure had risen to £ 4.2million.

Commons time on Monday will be reserved for tributes to Amess and former Home Secretary James Brokenshire, who died of cancer this month.

On Saturday, MPs gave a mixed response on how they would handle surgeries with voters. While several were defiant and tweeted about their normal conduct, others said the age at which MPs pre-announced the time and location for their surgeries, which were then open to everyone, must end .

Former Minister Tobias Ellwood has called for a break for in-person meetings until a security review ordered by Patel on Friday is completed. Ellwood, who chairs the Commons Advocacy Committee, tweeted, “Members’ engagement with the public… is a vital part of our work – our accessibility with the public. But understandable enormous anxiety among MPs now. Until the Home Secretary’s review of MP security is complete, I would recommend a temporary break in face-to-face meetings. “

But former Cabinet Minister David Davis disagreed: “Of course we should be careful, maybe we should do things to make sure that the people who come to us are in good faith, but I think a break would be a bad idea. It would be a terrible reflection of what David stood for – David himself was the ultimate constituency MP. “

Labor sources said last night the party would not be running in a Southend West by-election to replace Amess.

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