UK Politics

Aspiring MPs 'fear for their lives' over racist abuse

Some aspiring politicians are being put off by "vile" discriminatory threats and abuse that make them "fear for their lives", a Labour MP has said.

Natascha Engel, who recently chaired an all-party inquiry on ending discrimination in political campaigns, also said such cases were very rare.

But the inquiry had heard evidence of "extreme" situations where "very good candidates" had changed careers after suffering racism or homophobia.

One MP was called a "dirty Jew".

Conservative MP Lee Scott said the incident happened during the 2010 general election campaign, when two men approached him, delivered the jibe and threatened to kill him.

The inquiry also heard that former Labour MP for Gloucester Parmjit Dhanda, who is a Sikh, found a severed pig's head in his driveway the day after losing the 2010 general election.

'Unacceptable'

Ms Engel said: "The examples that we heard, some of which we couldn't publish in our report, were really very extreme, and even though they were few and far between I personally was very shocked at some of the things that happen, and wish they wouldn't happen and hope that we can move towards making it less likely for them to happen.

"There were candidates who, without a doubt, were not putting their names forward because of fear for their lives even, in certain areas.

"That was across the board, whether it was religious or ethnic or because of their sexuality or their gender, there were people who we felt would have been very good candidates for elected office at any level who were not putting their names forward.

"All of us on the committee felt that was absolutely unacceptable."

Ms Engel was leading a debate on the inquiry's report in MPs' secondary debating chamber, Westminster Hall.

Image caption Lee Scott told MPs he had received death threats

During the debate, Mr Scott said he had endured anti-Semitic abuse and death threats since the 2010 general election.

Leaflets had been circulated in his constituency of Ilford North describing him as an "enemy of Islam", he added.

Mr Scott said: "At the 2010 general election, I remember it very clearly, on a Friday, I was walking back to my car when two gentlemen - I use the word very loosely - approached me, called me a dirty Jew, and said they were going to kill me.

"I thought that was a little extreme. Not voting for me would have sufficed.

"What I normally do when I'm particularly scared is use humour. I said: 'I'll put you down as a 'possible'. You haven't decided how you're voting yet, have you?'

"They were as shocked by that as I was, and we both ran off in separate directions."

But later that night, he told MPs, he had cried for the first time since the birth of his child 25 years previously.

'Ironic and stupid'

Mr Scott continued: "That was some four years ago, so you'd have thought that it would all have died down.

"But sadly it hasn't. I still regularly get emails saying I should be stoned to death, I'm not quite sure why, but nonetheless I get them.

"Also, after speaking in January at the Holocaust memorial debate that we had in the chamber, I received a letter calling me a 'dirty Jew' and saying again I should be killed for speaking up against people killing Jews.

"I found the whole thing ironic and stupid and I said to the police I didn't want this taken any further because it would waste valuable time on somebody not worthy of wasting time on.

"But the consequences of what was stirred up at the general election, whether it be in my case because I am Jewish, in somebody else's case because of their sexuality, or other religions, or the colour of their skin, goes on for years afterwards.

"You can Google my name, and other MPs' names, and see some of the vile things that are on the net today."

He said he was concerned that the situation would worsen unless prosecutions were brought against the perpetrators.