News release from 22/02/2023

Councillors give the green light to ‘Debate Not Hate’ in a national campaign to tackle abuse and intimidation of Councillors

Councillors give the green light to ‘Debate Not Hate’ in a national campaign to tackle abuse and intimidation of Councillors

South Cambridgeshire Councillors agreed to take a zero-tolerance approach to abuse and intimidation of councillors and council staff as part of a national campaign.

Leaders of the two political parties represented at South Cambridgeshire District Council jointly proposed a motion about implementing the Debate Not Hate campaign.

The move comes amid local government figures which reveal that nationally seven in 10 councillors have experienced abuse and intimidation in the last 12 months and one in 10 experience abuse frequently. 

The motion to support the Debate Not Hate campaign was unanimously agreed with cross party support at yesterday’s Full South Cambridgeshire District Council meeting. The movement is spearheaded by the Local Government Association (LGA). Plans include:

  • Writing to the Government asking them to work with the LGA to address abuse and intimidation of politicians.
  • Regularly reviewing support available to councillors in relation to abuse, intimidation, and councillor safety.
  • Working with the local police to ensure a clear mechanism for reporting threats and other concerns about the safety of councillors and their families.
  • Taking a zero-tolerance approach to abuse of councillors and officers.

Debate Not Hate is raising public awareness of the role of councillors in local communities, encouraging healthy debate and aims to improve the response to, and support for, local politicians facing abuse and intimidation.

Cllr Bridget Smith, District Council Leader and Cllr Heather Williams, Opposition Group Leader, say better systems must be implemented to protect local politicians.

Cllr Smith said: “Democracy is at the heart of local government and councillors are part of the community they represent. However, the intimidation and abuse of councillors, in person or otherwise, undermines democracy; preventing elected members from representing the communities they serve, deterring individuals from standing for election, and undermining public life in democratic processes. Democracy thrives on good, frank discussions but these should never turn into personal abuse.”

Cllr Williams added: “While differences of opinion and robust debate is natural and healthy for democracy, it is not acceptable that individuals should suffer abuse and intimidation for their values. In politics we all want the same outcomes; it is simply the method to get there of which we disagree. There’s a responsibility on each and every one of us politicians and residents alike to respect and appreciate that it’s our differences that are our strength. It’s vital that we remember that councillors are not names on bits of paper, they’re human beings with families. We must never forget that or attempt to dehumanise those who put themselves forward to serve their communities.”

Both Cllr Smith and Cllr Williams agreed there is a growing need to stop the current culture of acceptance for people in public life to be attacked - both in person and increasingly, on social media.

The District Council has committed to challenge the increasing normalisation of abuse against councillors and uphold exemplary standards of public and political debate in all it does. Additionally, members agreed to denounce behaviour from anyone, be they an elected representative or a member of the public, that engages in any kind of abusive, threatening, or aggressive behaviour.   

A meeting of the Full Council acknowledged the vulnerability of elected representatives which has been at the forefront of the political sphere in recent years following high-profile incidents like the murders of Jo Cox MP and Sir David Amess MP.

The most recent Local Government Association Councillor Census revealed seven in 10 councillors reported experiencing abuse and intimidation within the last 12 months and one in 10 experienced abuse frequently.