Debate not Hate: Council supports bid to tackle abuse and intimidation against councillors

Somerset’s new unitary council will take a zero-tolerance approach to abuse of councillors or officers and has pledged to uphold exemplary standards of public and political debate.

Somerset County Council’s last Full Council meeting took place today and saw elected members from across all political parties voting to support a motion signing up the new Somerset Council -elected members and staff – to the Local Government Association’s Debate Not Hate campaign.

The motion was proposed by Labour Group Leader Cllr Leigh Redman who said: “Democracy is at the heart of local government and councillors are as much part of the community they represent.

“While debating and disagreeing with each other are an integral part of the process, councillors should not be subjected to abuse and intimidation because of their role.”

Leader of the Council, Cllr Bill Revans said: “In passing this motion Somerset County Council – and the new Somerset Council – is fully committed to standing up against abuse and working to promote positive, constructive public and political debate within our community.”

Cllr David Fothergill, Conservative Group Leader, added: “I fully support this motion. The toxicity of abuse and intimidation must be halted and a zero-tolerance approach adopted.”

Cllr Martin Dimery, Leader of the Greens group, said: “Healthy and constructive debate is the lifeblood of local government political discourse. I am pleased we all agree we must support this important campaign.

Cllr John Hunt, Leader of the Independent group, added: “Threats and intimidation cannot be tolerated and I am pleased that we, as a Council, are making that abundantly clear.”

The vulnerability of elected representatives has been at the forefront of the political sphere in recent years with high profile incidents like the murders of Jo Cox MP and Sir David Amess MP.

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

At the meeting, councillors agreed to work together on a cross-party basis to set an example of healthy debate and denounced abusive or threatening behaviour from anyone within the community on social media and in-person.

The council also pledged to support the LGA’s Debate not Hate campaign to remind everyone that while democracy thrives on good, frank discussions these should never turn into personal abuse.

The council resolved to:
• Write to the local Members of Parliament to ask them to support the campaign.
• Write to the Government to ask them to work with the LGA to develop and implement a plan to address abuse and intimidation of politicians at every level.
• Ensure that Somerset Council has a clear reporting mechanism which councillors can use to can use to monitor and record incidents of harassment and abuse of councillors and officers.
• Regularly review the support available to councillors in relation to abuse and intimidation and councillor safety.
• Work with the local police to ensure there is a clear and joined-up mechanism for reporting threats and other concerns about the safety of councillors and their families and discuss the need to take a preventative approach that accounts for the specific risks that councillors face, as they do with other high-risk individuals, like MP’s.
• Take a zero-tolerance approach to abuse of councillors and officers.