Democracy forms the foundation of our communities in West Mercia, giving us all the power to act, speak or think freely.

But these freedoms are fragile and need continuous attention. The recent protests we have seen play out across the country have seen a small but vocal minority overstepping the line of peaceful expression and instead resorting to acts of violence, intimidation and hate.

I have seen this first-hand, where my office and I have received messages from anonymous accounts filled with threats of violence, false accusations and toxicity. I know these hate messages are not unique to me. This is happening across the political spectrum and MPs are fearing for their safety, with Preet Gill MP’s recent interview on Politics Midlands highlighting the daily abuse she faces.

I, like all elected representatives don’t want it to be about us as individuals, it’s about what we can do for the communities we serve. But we cannot have a democratic system where elected representatives or candidates are unable to express their views in fear of retaliation.

I know some of the disturbing scenes that are taking place in our major cities have begun to trickle into towns and cities across the country. Only recently, a protest at a private Conservative event in Stoke-on-Trent escalated into protestors entering the venue to harass and intimate elected representatives and members.

Freedom to express our views and take part in healthy debate only makes our democracy stronger, but a single voice should never shout down another. Instead, disagreement should be used to promote understanding. Actions we have seen recently, devalue a complex situation, stifle healthy debate, and deny communities the freedom to have their voice heard.

Increased division is one factor driving a sharp rise in hate crime incidents in West Mercia, and I know this is causing concern across the three counties.

This time of increased tension has featured regularly in meetings I have had with West Mercia Police’s Chief Constable, and I will be seeking further reassurance on the force’s efforts to keep all communities safe, its readiness to respond to incidents, and the support on offer for representatives of all parties.

Local elections, and likely a general election, are on the horizon. The ballot box is used to make sure the views of our community are at the heart of the way our society works. While it’s the job of the police to maintain public order, communities across West Mercia want to see police officers focused on tackling their priorities, not devoting energy and increased resources into managing this escalation. 

It’s therefore on all of us to drive discourse in a way that respects differing opinions and firmly shuts the door on non-peaceful protest.