Sarah Wollaston has become the second Conservative MP to speak out against abuse and intimidation around the election campaign, revealing that a masked man covered her office with graffiti insults.
The MP for Totnes, a former chair of the Commons health watchdog, said she felt the abusive words on her office building were an attempt to “force me out of town”, after Sheryll Murray, the MP for South East Cornwall, said she had swastikas carved in posters and messages such as “burn the witch”.
A flurry of complaints from MPs about abuse at the election prompted Theresa May to hold a cabinet discussion on Tuesday about what could be done to stamp out the problem.
Wollaston said attempts to intimidate her were not as bad as those suffered by some Labour MPs whose trolls have been convicted for sending death threats on social media, but she still felt it was a deliberate attempt to intimidate her and her office staff.
There were two incidents in which graffiti with insults such as “you dogs” were painted on her office.
“The second time, when I saw on the CCTV it was a masked man, people do find that intimidating. It is designed to intimidate. It feels like it is designed to try and force me out of the town. It just shows a kind of intolerance that I think is really sad,” she told the Guardian.
“It seems to be there is a particular type of person for whom the minute they know it’s upsetting you they will do it even more,” she said. “There are some people on social media who are very abusive where you realise they are not very well. But there are some who are just frankly unpleasant. And for some of them it is clearly an agenda to try and intimidate you off social media. It feels that there is an agenda to force you off Twitter. I take the view of: why should I be forced off?”
She said it was an extremely difficult problem to legislate against but political parties could perhaps work harder to stamp out intimidation among their supporters.
“I do feel Jeremy Corbyn has got to stop just talking about a kinder politics and make sure that is a message that gets through to some of his members on the far left and likewise for other parties too,” she said.
“There have to be consequences for people who are deliberately targeting those with whom they don’t happen to share a political viewpoint and that are using tactics designed to intimidate. You realise there is a tsunami of this stuff that comes at you.”
May led a discussion about the concerns with her cabinet on Tuesday, after candidates were subject to incidents of harassment in real life and on social media. Many MPs have already increased security at their offices and homes in the year since Jo Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen, was murdered by a far right extremist in her constituency.
It is understood ministers will investigate the extent of the problem at the 2015 election and before, looking at whether some work can be done across the parties to deal with the abuse and threats suffered.
Murray was last week the first Conservative to speak out about her treatment during the campaign, saying it involved someone urinating at her office door and death threats on social media.
“Over the past month I’ve had swastikas carved into posters, social media posts like ‘burn the witch’ … people putting Labour party posters over my home, photographed them and pushed them through my letterbox, and someone even urinated on my office door,” she said. “Hardly kinder, gentler politics.”
Abuse was not limited to threats against Conservative candidates. Nimco Ali, a candidate for the Women’s Equality party, received a death threat in a letter filled with racist abuse and signed “Jo Cox”.
Police also had to be called to the offices of Ali’s party, where workers were being inundated with abusive and threatening calls in the run-up to the election, with one man telephoning to say he was 10 minutes away and they should be scared.
Numerous Labour MPs were also subject to abuse long before the election campaign, with Twitter trolls convicted for their death threats to Angela Eagle, Stella Creasy and Luciana Berger, who has been subjected to repeated antisemitic abuse online.
May told the Commons last week that personalised abuse was putting good people off becoming MPs.
She told Murray: “You are absolutely right to raise this issue and you were not the only person who experienced this sort of intimidation during the election campaign, particularly, I’m sorry to say, this sort of intimidation was experienced by female candidates during the election campaign.
“I believe this sort of behaviour has no place in our democracy and I think you’re right, I think it could put good people off from serving in this house.”