Be careful out there: UK police warn candidates about safety

Safety warning for politicos

British police are unveiling new tactics to protect politicians amid the country’s fraught, even hostile political atmosphere, issuing safety recommendations for candidates running in the country’s Dec. 12 general election.

All 650 seats in the House of Commons are up for grabs in the vote but more than 70 lawmakers have announced they are not running for re-election amid Britain's toxic political atmosphere.

Politicians on both sides of the Brexit argument over Britain’s impending departure from the European Union have received abuse and threats — even death threats — both in person and online. Those leaving include many moderate pro-EU Conservatives, Labour legislators who say their party has not stamped out anti-Semitism and high-profile female legislators, who have received a disproportionate amount of the abuse.

There also have been increasing concerns for British politicians’ personal safety since Labour Party legislator Jo Cox was stabbed to death during the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council said Friday it is urging candidates not to campaign alone if possible and to contact local police in advance of campaigning in specific areas.

It also advised candidates to check that any material they have posted online does not release “sensitive personal information,” data that could possibly aid stalkers or those with malign intentions.

Chairman Martin Hewitt said all police forces will offer security briefings for candidates and will have a senior police officer responsible for handling safety issues.

“We’re not going to tell anyone to limit their campaigning or enthusiasm in any way, but we are taking precautionary steps ourselves and providing sensible advice to candidates,” he said.

The advice will be distributed to all candidates as part of an information package developed by police, the Electoral Commission and prosecutors.

It also suggests that candidates “take active steps around personal safety to keep themselves and their campaign staff safe” and make sure that someone knows where they are canvassing voters for support.

Police say candidates should keep a record of any intimidating behaviour or abuse they encounter.

The advice stops short of suggesting that candidates avoid knocking on doors after dark, given that the extremely rare December election is taking place during the darkest time of the year.

Britain is holding a national election on Dec. 12, two years early, because Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a Conservative, wants to secure a majority so he can take the U.K. out of the EU by the next Brexit deadline of Jan. 31.

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