Social media companies need to put more resources into tackling online hate, Dan Jarvis has said, as a group of high-profile Yorkshire MPs have spoken out about their security fears.
The Barnsley MP and Sheffield City Region Mayor, alongside Leeds MP Rachel Reeves, Wakefield MP Mary Creagh and Morley and Outwood MP Andrea Jenkyns all revealed the extent of the threats and harassment they have received.
Speaking for the first time about his own experience, Mr Jarvis told The Yorkshire Post that he had received a letter during the 2017 General Election threatening to shoot him if he didn’t step down from public life.
In the note - which was sent to his local office - the author claims to have obtained a firearm and writes that if the MP is re-elected: “I will kill you.”
Soon afterwards Mr Jarvis received an abusive late night phone call, which he believes was made by the same person.
Reflecting on the incident, he said: “It arrived during the General Election campaign.
“So, it was at a time when, along with local volunteers, we were out knocking on people’s doors.
“I was obviously concerned about where that letter had come from and whether there was a risk that we would knock on the door of that person, because we didn’t know who they were...
“There was a very sinister phone call that was made to the office that was left on the office answer phone that was picked up by my office manager.
“It was not a nice thing to receive. And obviously I reported it to the police and took advice about how we should respond to it.”
The rise in threats of violence against politicians has, he revealed, prompted him to move his constituency office.
“I feel secure here in Parliament,” he said. “But my staff are on the front line and I wanted them to be in a very secure location.
“So, I took the decision to move from somewhere that, frankly, was not as secure as I thought it needed to be to somewhere that I think is.”
The MP’s experience is sadly, not unique as many politicians face abuse and threats of violence, some on a regular basis.
Since the tragic murder of Batley and Spen MP Jo Cox in 2016 these incidents have been taken much more seriously and spending on MP’s security has skyrocketed from £170,000 in 2015/16 to £4.2m in 2017/18.
However, Mr Jarvis believes that social media firms should be doing more to stem the tide of online abuse against him and others.
“I think there is perhaps more that the social media platforms could do, in terms of perhaps increasing the level of resource they have available to them to look at the behaviour of people who have fallen foul of the rules and codes of conduct on those platforms.
“So, I think - Twitter, Facebook, all of those organisations have an absolute responsibility to ensure that, given the resources that they have - these are big organisations - that their platforms are properly policed. So, that where people are behaving in a way that is unacceptable that appropriate action is taken.”
Mr Jarvis was one of a group of MPs who said that they had been forced to become more cautious about interacting with constituents because of safety fears.
Wakefield MP Mary Creagh said: “Now we never have open surgeries, we never advertise our surgeries, surgeries are appointment only and we are quite strict about all of that.
“Gone are the days when I would bring my baby son into my surgery and breastfeed him on my own in the community centre. Those days are no longer possible.”
The Labour MP - who has been a prominent campaigner for a second EU referendum - added that the latest threat against her had been made last month in the run up to an important Brexit vote.
“Just before the ‘meaningful vote’ on 29 January, we were told by our local police that a credible threat had been made against us and as a result we had a very high police presence around a street stall that I did for the People's Vote the following day, and we took a lot of extra security precautions in Wakefield.”
Leeds MP Rachel Reeves has also stepped up her security after the murder of her friend and colleague in 2016, but she believes that Ms Cox’s legacy should be one of unity rather than division.
“Jo wouldn’t want the response to her death to be MPs becoming inaccessible, because Jo was really at the heart of her community and that’s one of the reasons that she was as loved as she was.
“And so MPs have got to carry on being able to go out and about, do their surgeries and be visible in the community where they live and they represent. So, you have got to get a balance right.”
Tory Brexiteer and Morely and Outwood MP Andrea Jenkyns has also been a target of harassment, some of which has focussed on her stance on the EU.
She said: “You get the usual ones - you’re a thicko, you’re a Brexiteer so you’re a thick, you’re racist. We get that as a daily occurrence.”
She added: “After Jo Cox was tragically killed - I used to advertise my surgeries and now it’s by appointment only.
“I’ve got a high street office. People used to just pop in for a cup of tea and I wanted that kind of environment but now we have an intercom and everything.
“I put the protection in for my staff in all honesty. I make sure if I tweet I don’t tweet while I’m there, I tweet afterwards because you have got to be careful.
“But I’m not going to stop being an MP who is out there meeting my constituents for anybody really, I just need to be sensible about the way I do it.”
Mr Jarvis was equally determined to remain accessible to his constituents and to be a visible part of his community, but he admitted to being more wary.
“The moment I walk through the town centre I can absolutely guarantee that someone will stop me and I will find myself in a conversation… and if you’re properly engaging with them, you don’t know what is happening behind you.
"Yeah, it is worrying that you have to be worried about having a conversation with a constituent in the town centre that someone might be coming up behind you.”