BRAINTREE, United Kingdom: Candidates hoping to be elected to parliament in Britain have faced all manner of threats and abuse in a particularly hostile campaign, with some worried for their safety when out canvassing.
When one man on Facebook threatened a violent attack on Dominic Graham, the would-be MP immediately called the police, who made an arrest.
It was far from an isolated case in the run-up to Thursday’s snap polls, called on the increasingly divisive issue of Brexit.
Graham is standing for the third time for the centrist, pro-EU Liberal Democrats, who want to cancel Brexit altogether.
“We didn’t see anything close to the threats we’ve been getting in this campaign,” he told Agence France-Presse, comparing 2019 with his previous election bids.
When he went knocking on doors in a residential part of Braintree, a town in Essex, northeast of London, he made sure he was accompanied by a fellow Lib Dem activist, in line with police and party security instructions.
Ever since entering parliament in 2017, the German-born Wera Hobhouse, standing for the Lib Dems in Bath, southwest England, has received a stream of anonymous letters.
She informs the police of her campaign movements and always carries an alarm button in her pocket.
In recent days, her election placards have regularly been destroyed by unknown assailants, “with such force that I ask myself what would happen if we crossed paths,” she said.
The number of alleged crimes reported by MPs more than doubled from 151 in 2017 to 342 last year, senior police chief Neil Basu told a parliamentary committee in May.
The first four months of 2019 saw a 90 percent year-on-year increase to 152 — a trend on course to lead to “certainly over 450 crimes this year,” he said.
Women and ethnic minorities are disproportionately targeted in particular, said Britain’s top police officer Cressida Dick.
The toxic atmosphere is “unprecedented,” she said, citing “polarized opinions” changing the nature of protest activity following the 2016 Brexit referendum.
“The abuse that we’ve had has been Brexit-related — all of it,” said Graham, sheltering under an umbrella in his party’s yellow and black colors.
He is campaigning on unfavorable territory as the Braintree constituency voted heavily in favor of Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Conservative Party co-chairman James Cleverly is the favorite to retain his seat, winning last time with 63 percent of the vote.