Political campaigners will often tell you that personal conversations on the doorstep tend to have a far greater influence on voting behaviour than any number of party leaflets or television adverts. But for this unusual winter election, this vital part of our democratic process is being curtailed for the darkest of reasons.
Candidates to become MPs in Yorkshire will not knock on voters’ doors after dark during the campaign on police advice over fears for their safety, while volunteers are being handed alarms and told not to go out alone. The precautions are unfortunately entirely justified. Death threats to MPs have become commonplace and many of those now standing down from Parliament have cited the abuse they have faced among the reasons.
Three years on from the murder of Jo Cox in her Batley & Spen constituency in the days before the EU referendum, threats towards politicians are becoming worse. Earlier this year, a neo-Nazi was jailed for plotting to murder Labour MP Rosie Cooper, while crimes committed against MPs more than doubled in 2018 compared to the year before.
The ongoing crisis around Brexit has undoubtedly contributed towards an increase in hostility towards politicians of all sides – witness the police escorts given to the likes of Jacob Rees-Mogg and Diane Abbott as they faced abuse from protesters after the recent Saturday sitting of Parliament.
Many MPs are opting to leave politics behind. Countless others have been dissuaded from standing from election at all. The toxic atmosphere must change; political parties must make clear they do not endorse intimidation and abuse of opponents, the police must take reported threats seriously and the public should also try to act with courtesy to candidates, even those with whom they profoundly disagree politically. The future of our democracy is at stake.