Council leader calls MP killing 'an attack on every single person who is involved in democracy'
Maya Derrick and Matthew Smith, local democracy reporter
- Credit: Rebecca Stewart/HM Government
The tragic killing of MP Sir David Amess has again raised questions about what support is in place for those representing our areas.
While MPs have the support networks and teams in place to deal with the high-profile nature of Westminster politics, councillors often have to face abuse on their own.
Some councillors have seen their family members threatened, received anti-Semitic abuse and even been shot at with an air rifle.
A number of leaders have committed to reviewing measures to ensure that nobody is at risk, while also making sure that residents have a chance to speak with their representatives.
Leader of North Hertfordshire Council, Councillor Elizabeth Dennis-Harburg, highlighted that a lot of women are choosing not to go into politics partly because of abuse on social media.
Cllr Dennis-Harburg 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.
“We do see a lot of commentary on there about councillors who are in it for themselves taking loads of public money, claiming expenses, never do anything good for the community, take brown envelopes from developers and a whole long list of all of the different horrible names that you could call any kind of human being, and that can be difficult to deal with.
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“But I’m a millennial, I’ve grown up with social media and you come to expect trolling. It doesn’t make it okay, but you understand, you accept and you move on, you learn to nod and smile.”
She added that the council will be putting in measures following the incident, but it was vital to get on with the “best part of the work” and speak to residents.
“Obviously when there is an incident like this it puts us all on guard, because this isn’t just an attack on one individual or one particular place, it’s an attack on every single person who is involved in democracy," she added.
“It’s politicians, it’s the people that work with us, it’s our communities, and it’s absolutely not acceptable, but for people at my level of democracy there is no reason why we should be fearful, and why we shouldn’t continue going about and doing our jobs.
“We are going to have police support at the next two community surgeries that we run in our towns, just for that added safety, but my view is that we’re not in a place at this moment in time where that level of protection is necessary. It’s just something to help us feel a little bit safer, because we’ve all been shaken.”
Although MPs generally have more support and protection than more local democracy representatives, Richard Fuller, MP for North East Bedfordshire echoed Cllr Dennis-Harburg's sentiments.
Upon learning of Sir David's death almost two weeks ago, he described the attack as both a public and family tragedy.
He said: "The right for people to meet, and challenge, their Member of Parliament is a distinctive and truly valuable part of our democracy.
"It’s what helps make peaceful society work: debating, perhaps disagreeing, with this we entrust with power, but ultimately accepting a democratic decision.
"This is one reason, of many, why the death of Sir David Amess is a public tragedy as well as a devastating family tragedy."