Wales politics

Abuse driving people from politics, Simon Hart MP says

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Media captionPeople are being "driven off the political field of play", Simon Hart says

Abuse of candidates and activists is "driving people away from politics", a Welsh Conservative MP has said.

Simon Hart is urging MPs to review the law to combat sexism, racism, homophobia and criminal damage.

He said some party members have had their cars scratched or property damaged.

Former Welsh Secretary David Jones told MPs June's election had been the most unpleasant of the six in which he had stood as a candidate.

At a Westminster Hall debate led by Mr Hart, Clwyd West Tory MP Mr Jones claimed the intimidation was co-ordinated, that Twitter was "deeply anti-social" and logging onto it was now like "wading through sewage".

The debate followed widespread concern about intimidation during the campaign for the general election in June.

Opening the debate, the Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP said: "Since the election, the Conservative Whips Office has been dealing with at least three credible threats to colleagues a week, including death threats, criminal damage, sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism and general thuggishness around and after the election."

Matters had deteriorated in the run-up to the poll, he said, with people and businesses targeted for supporting certain candidates and some afraid to put posters up for fear of what the reaction might be.

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Media captionEmily Owen says she suffered "very intimidating, very intense" abuse on social media

Earlier, Mr Hart said almost half his election campaign boards were defaced, stolen or damaged, adding that he and other MPs received abuse on social media "on an almost daily basis".

"These are things that have significant financial consequences and it's driving people away from politics, even on the fringes, at a time when actually it's never been more important that they're part of politics," he said.

Mr Hart said he wanted social media platforms to ask themselves "some searching questions" about whether they were protecting people from online abuse and called for a review of legislation as much of it "predates social media by hundreds of years".

Meanwhile, Wales Office minister Guto Bebb said he had also been a victim of online intimidation, and has accused serving police officers of being among those who have abused him.

North Wales Police said it had recently received correspondence from the Conservative MP for Aberconwy and "the matters will be examined".

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Image caption A Conservative campaign poster in Cornwall was defaced by swastikas

Emily Owen, a Labour general election candidate for Aberconwy, told BBC Radio Wales said she was inundated by sexist comments on social media after announcing she was standing for the 2017 election.

She said she had experienced "threats very close to rape threats" and people had to be called out on it.

"It is horrible, it is absolutely horrible," she said.

"One of the big messages needs to be, this is not OK, it's absolutely not normal."

Before Wednesday's debate UK ministers announced an inquiry into intimidation of parliamentary candidates.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life will look at the nature of the problem of intimidation, considering the current protections and measures in place for candidates, reporting back to the prime minister.

Theresa May said: "Robust debate is a vital part of our democracy, but there can be no place for the shocking threats and abuse we have seen in recent months."

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