No place for candidate intimidation or abuse ahead of May elections

No place for candidate intimidation or abuse ahead of May elections

With local elections in England and Northern Ireland taking place next month, the Electoral Commission is highlighting the abuse faced by election candidates and calling for a campaign free of intimidation, abuse or fear. The appeal comes after 40% of candidates at last year’s elections in England reported experiencing some kind of abuse or intimidation.

To help tackle the issue and support candidates, the Commission is working with police and prosecution services to help candidates understand when behaviour goes beyond political debate and may be unlawful.

In partnership with the National Police Chiefs’ Council and Police Service Northern Ireland, the Commission has published guidance which outlines the actions and behaviours that may constitute a criminal offence so that candidates can bring it to the attention of the police. Advice surgeries and webinars are also being offered which provide information to candidates on how to protect themselves and co-workers.

Louise Edwards, Director of Regulation at the Electoral Commission, said:

“Campaigning is a hugely important part of the democratic process as it allows voters to hear a range of views and make informed decisions. Political views can be diverse, and at time divisive. However, the Commission believes it is important that campaigning can take place without candidates feeling threatened. While the vast majority of people agree, abuse of candidates during the campaign period continues to be a problem.  

“In order to help protect candidates from intimidation and abuse, we are providing support during the campaign period. We are urging anyone on the receiving end of abuse, threats or intimating behaviour to report it to the police. Victims of abuse won’t always realise that what they are experiencing may constitute a criminal offence. Threatening behaviour should always be reported to the local police.”  

From November 2023, there will be a new electoral sanction for those found guilty of intimidating candidates, campaigners and elected representatives. Banning someone from standing for elected office, as well as imposing criminal sanctions, such as a prison sentence or fine, is designed to strengthen the deterrent against this intimidating behaviour.

It is already an offence to make a false statement of fact about a candidate’s personal character or conduct. If candidates receive threats or abuse, they should report their experiences to the police. More information is available in the joint guidance on the Commission's website, and tailored guidance for candidates in Northern Ireland.

Ends

For more information contact the Electoral Commission press office on 020 7271 0704, out of office hours 07789 920 414 or press@electoralcommission.org.uk

Notes to Editors

  • New research by the Electoral Commission found that 86% of respondents said it was unacceptable to verbally threaten candidates in public and 78% said it was unacceptable to use foul language to address them.
  • The study was part of the Commission’s annual public opinion tracker, and was carried out online, across the UK, in February 2023. It had over 4,000 respondents.
  • 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 by:
    • 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 and Scottish Parliaments.