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Abuse driving people from politics, Simon Hart MP says

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Media captionPeople are being “driven off the political field of play”, Simon Hart says

Abuse of candidates and activists is “driving people away from politics”, a Welsh Conservative MP has said.

Simon Hart is urging MPs to review the law to combat sexism, racism, homophobia and criminal damage.

Ahead of a Westminster debate, he said some party members have had their cars scratched or property damaged.

The Carmarthenshire West and South Pembrokeshire MP said there were also questions over whether the internet could be policed more effectively.

Mr Hart is leading a debate on Wednesday amid concern about intimidation during the campaign for the general election in June.

He said it had been especially targeted at female candidates.

‘Close to rape threats’

Emily Owen, who stood as Labour candidate for Aberconwy, said she was inundated by sexist comments on social media after announcing she was standing for the 2017 election.

Ms Owen told BBC Radio Wales she had experienced “threats very close to rape threats” and people had to be called out on it.

“It is horrible, it is absolutely horrible,” she said.

“One of the big messages needs to be, this is not OK, it’s absolutely not normal.”

While Ms Owen said the abuse had not put her off standing in the future, Mr Hart said it could act as a deterrent for people putting themselves forward for the political stage.

He said: “These are things that have significant financial consequences and it’s driving people away from politics, even on the fringes, at a time when actually it’s never been more important that they’re part of politics.”

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Sheryll Murray

Image caption

A Conservative campaign poster in Cornwall was defaced by swastikas

The Conservative MP said almost half his election campaign boards were defaced, stolen or damaged, adding that he and other MPs received abuse on social media “on an almost daily basis”.

Fellow Conservative Byron Davies – who lost Gower to Labour – had “a campaign of utterly invented adverse commentary to deal with”, he added.

Mr Hart said he wanted social media platforms to ask themselves “some searching questions” about whether they were protecting people from online abuse.

“It’s pretty widespread and I don’t think there’s a single colleague who either retained their seat or lost their seat who hasn’t experienced something similar,” he said.

Mr Hart said a review of legislation was needed, saying a lot of it “predates social media by hundreds of years”.

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