Electoral Commission
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Call for general election to be free from candidate abuse in NI

The Electoral Commission, alongside the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Jo Cox Foundation, has today (Tuesday 4 June) called for a campaign free from abuse in Northern Ireland ahead of the upcoming UK Parliamentary general election on July 4.

The Commission’s report on the May 2023 local elections in Northern Ireland highlighted that 50% of candidates reported experiencing threats, abuse and or intimidation.  

Our research found women candidates in Northern Ireland were more likely than men candidates to have experienced harassment. The harassment most frequently came from members of the public and anonymous sources.17% was received from campaigners and volunteers and 13% from other candidates.

A new survey conducted by the Commission following the May 2024 elections in England, finds these experiences are not confined to Northern Ireland. 43% of English local election candidates surveyed reported experiencing some kind of abuse or intimidation, with one in 10 describing it as a serious problem.  

This increased to 56% when respondents were presented with a list of specific scenarios, such as receiving physical threats or threats towards family, staff, or friends.

To tackle the issue and support candidates, the Electoral Commission, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland and the Public Prosecution Service have produced joint guidance (Opens in new window) to help candidates understand when behaviour goes beyond political debate and may be unlawful. The Electoral Commission, alongside the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Jo Cox Foundation, has today (Tuesday 4 June) called for a campaign free from abuse in Northern Ireland ahead of the upcoming UK Parliamentary general election on July 4.

The Commission’s report on the May 2023 local elections in Northern Ireland highlighted that 50% of candidates reported experiencing threats, abuse and or intimidation.  

Our research found women candidates in Northern Ireland were more likely than men candidates to have experienced harassment. The harassment most frequently came from members of the public and anonymous sources.17% was received from campaigners and volunteers and 13% from other candidates.

A new survey conducted by the Commission following the May 2024 elections in England, finds these experiences are not confined to Northern Ireland. 43% of English local election candidates surveyed reported experiencing some kind of abuse or intimidation, with one in 10 describing it as a serious problem.  

This increased to 56% when respondents were presented with a list of specific scenarios, such as receiving physical threats or threats towards family, staff, or friends.

To tackle the issue and support candidates, the Electoral Commission, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the Electoral Office for Northern Ireland and the Public Prosecution Service have produced joint guidance to help candidates understand when behaviour goes beyond political debate and may be unlawful.

Cahir Hughes, Head of the Electoral Commission in Northern Ireland, said:

"Campaigning is vital to our democracy and should be carried out respectfully. However, our research shows that far too many candidates are facing harassment and abuse, both in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.  

“This can deter candidates from campaigning or standing altogether, significantly impacting voter choice and access to information.  

“Threats of violence, unwanted contact, and discriminatory abuse are illegal. We are working with the Police Service of Northern Ireland to produce safe campaigning guidelines, raising awareness about the crime, and urging campaigners to educate their teams about this worrying trend.”  

Police Service of Northern Ireland Assistant Chief Constable Davy Beck said:  

“The Police Service is committed to supporting all candidates in the upcoming election and we will play our part to ensure they can campaign free from harassment and intimidation.  

“The joint guidance document, available on our website, provides crucial information for candidates on staying safe, steps they can take to prevent physical and online abuse, how the Police Service can support them and, crucially when to report an incident to police.  

“I want to emphasise that any abuse, harassment or criminality directed at candidates and any elected representative is totally unacceptable and will be thoroughly investigated.”

Su Moore, Chief Executive of the Jo Cox Foundation, said:  

"Through the Jo Cox Civility Commission, we highlighted how abuse and intimidation of politicians negatively affects democracy in the UK and this new research reveals the scale of abuse in our elections, with particularly stark figures on how it is impacting women candidates.

“We all have a responsibility for changing the perception that elected representatives are acceptable targets of abuse and intimidation. For candidates standing in the General Election, we have launched a Civility Pledge in collaboration with Compassion in Politics, which we are urging all candidates to sign as a commitment to running a respectful campaign.”

For more information contact the Electoral Commission press office on 028 90 894 032, out of office hours 07789 920 414 or press@electoralcommission.org.uk 

Notes to Editors

  • Our report on the May 2023 local elections in Northern Ireland found half of all candidates reported experiencing threats, abuse and/or intimidation.
  • Women were more likely than men to have experienced harassment. Harassment most frequently came from members of the public (57%) and anonymous/unknown sources (40%). 17% was received from campaigners/volunteers and 13% from other candidates.
  • Research conducted by the Electoral Commission following the May 2024 elections in England found that 43% reported some kind of problem with harassment, threats, or intimidation.  
  • The study was carried out online in May 2024. It had 430 respondents from candidates standing at the May 2024 elections in England.  
  • Respondents were shown a list of types of harassment and asked if they had experienced any of them during their campaign. Overall, 56% said they had experienced one of the scenarios at least once.
  • The Jo Cox Foundation makes meaningful change on issues that the late Jo Cox MP was passionate about. The charity works in three areas: nurturing stronger communities, championing respect in politics and advocating for a fairer world. Underpinning this work is the understanding that we have more in common than that which divides us. Jo Cox was murdered on 16 June 2016 in the place she loved – Batley and Spen – doing the work she loved, as an MP on behalf of her constituents.
  • The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is the police service responsible for law enforcement and the prevention of crime within Northern Ireland across 11 policing districts.

The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. We work to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity.  

  • enabling the delivery of free and fair elections and referendums, focusing on the needs of electors and addressing the changing environment to ensure every vote remains secure and accessible
  • regulating political finance – taking proactive steps to increase transparency, ensure compliance and pursue breaches
  • using our expertise to make and advocate for changes to our democracy, aiming to improve fairness, transparency and efficiency
  • The Commission was set up in 2000 and reports to the UK, Welsh and Scottish Parliaments. 

 

Channel website: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk

Original article link: https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/media-centre/call-general-election-be-free-candidate-abuse-ni

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