Council leader discusses 'vicious attacks' on social media

Councillor Richard Wenham, leader of Central Bedfordshire Council

Councillor Richard Wenham, leader of Central Bedfordshire Council - Credit: Courtesy of Central Bedfordshire

Social media has “allowed a huge assault on civility in public life”, according to the leader of Central Bedfordshire Council.

The Arlesey councillor, Richard Wenham, said “vicious barracking” has led to a handful of “physical attacks on councillors and their property”.

Referring to social media as “helpful, but also a curse”, councillor Wenham called it: “A wonderful way of communicating things, if done properly.

“I know of many councillors in our area who, in common with others across the country, have suffered vicious attacks on social media,” he told the local democracy reporting service.

“Totally appalling statements made to them about themselves without any foundation at all. It’s just unacceptable.

“The sad thing is that wouldn’t occur if we were sat in the council chamber or a public meeting hall. It’s because people hide behind a keyboard or screen.

“And it’s also quite sad that councillors have entered into doing that to fellow councillors. That’s not what any of us have gone into public life to do.

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“This vicious barracking that’s gone on has got no place in politics in my view and beyond that social media it sometimes unfortunately spills over into physical attacks on councillors and their property.

“We’ve had a number, fortunately a small number of incidents in Central Bedfordshire where it’s spilled over into that which makes it even more concerning."

Last month, the Comet reported that Stevenage Borough Council leader, Sharon Taylor, had been harassed at her home address earlier this year. 

A 40-year-old Stevenage man pleaded guilty to harassing Councillor Taylor, and was fined a total of £915.

North Herts Council leader Elizabeth Dennis-Harburg also spoke out about harassment of councillors following the killing of MP Sir David Amess, who was stabbed at a constituency surgery last month.

She said: “We see these interactions a lot of the time mainly, unfortunately, on social media which is probably one of the most invasive forms of communication that we have because it’s constantly with us, constantly on your phone and in your personal space."

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