MPs will debate abuse and intimidation of candidates and the public in UK elections after a cross-party report recommended that parties do more to prepare candidates for the ruthless nature of campaigning.
An informal all-party parliamentary inquiry into electoral conduct highlighted the scale of the abuse and found that racism and bigotry were “on the rise” at times since the 2015 general election.
Labour and the Conservatives have both accused the other of failing to act to stamp out abuse by their members and activists.
Before the debate on Wednesday, Labour accused the Conservatives of abusing parliamentary candidates on social media “on an industrial scale”.
Labour said the Tories had run a “nasty” campaign full of smears and untruths about opponents, particularly the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott.
A number of cases of abuse were highlighted in the report, including a Tory former minister Andrew Percy, a convert to Judaism, being called “Zionist scum”.
Sheryll Murray, a Tory MP, told how she was left “sickened” when her posters were daubed with swastikas, while Ameet Jogia, an Indian-origin Conservative party candidate who stood against Labour’s Barry Gardiner in Brent North, reported finding a voting booth vandalised with graffiti, stating: “Vote Labour Barry, not Jogia. Keep pakis out of politics.”
In a letter to the Conservative party chairman, Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Labour said millions had been spent on attack adverts on social media in a campaign that could deter future parliamentary hopefuls from entering politics.
The letter, written by the Labour party chair, Ian Lavery, and Cat Smith, the shadow minister for voter engagement, calls for a zero-tolerance approach to abuse.
They wrote: “The Conservatives ran a negative, nasty campaign, propagating personal attacks, smears and untruths, particularly aimed at one of the most prominent women MPs, and indeed the first black woman MP, Diane Abbott.
“Such attacks on politicians, the consequent intimidating and abusive language and threats of violence towards them online, deter many people from entering politics.
“Parties and politicians have a responsibility to set an example, by treating others with dignity and respect, including those with whom we strongly disagree. The Conservative party has instead promoted personal attacks as a core component of its national campaign.
“Abuse against candidates on social media is completely unacceptable. The Conservative party perpetrated this on an industrial scale by spending millions of pounds to post highly personalised and nasty attack adverts on voters’ Facebook timelines without their permission.
“This is not an isolated incident. Last year Zac Goldsmith MP ran an extremely negative, divisive and racially discriminatory campaign against Sadiq Khan. It was described by Sayeeda Warsi, the former Conservative party co-chairman, as ‘appalling’.”
“Only [this week] it was revealed that Conservative MP Anne Marie Morris used a racist slur while speaking on a panel at the East India Club last week, evidence of the level to which abusive and discriminatory language has been tolerated by the Conservative party.”
They said Labour had “fought a positive, hopeful campaign” and insisted that all its MPs ran campaigns based on the party’s policies rather than personal attacks.
The all-party report said: “We conclude that more could and should be done by political parties to prepare candidates for the ruthless nature of campaigning. This might include personal safety sessions and briefings from experienced campaigners.”
Jeremy Corbyn has faced repeated criticism that he has failed to explicitly condemn attacks made by his supporters.