The Jo Cox Civility Commission’s final report, launched today in Parliament, considers the impact of abuse and intimidation on British democracy – identifying and categorising a wide range of recommendations to improve civility in public life.
The Commission, co-chaired by Baroness Gabrielle Bertin and Lord Vernon Coaker, engaged with representatives and experts across the political spectrum including politicians, government officials and relevant expert bodies*. It found two primary problem areas that require urgent attention. Firstly, a lack of central coordinating force at government level, and secondly, a lack of political education amongst the British public.
At the start of a likely General Election year, the report highlights the impact of abuse and intimidation on our political system, which it concludes is one of the contributing factors for elected representatives to step back from politics. It also cites research showing 43% of Welsh MPs and Senedd Members have received a death threat, while almost 90% of female MSPs had feared for their safety since being elected.
The report – entitled ‘No place in politics: tackling abuse and intimidation’ – provides a roadmap of 28 recommendations that would make life safer for political representatives and candidates for office, while preserving the UK’s long and honourable tradition of robust political debate.
The recommendations, which demand action from multiple sectors, include:
- Government should implement and resource a central unit to address abuse and intimidation of all elected politicians. This would include coordinating existing initiatives, resourcing new solutions, and facilitating information sharing between agencies.
- Impartial political and media literacy should be made a mandatory part of the school curriculum, including addressing how to deal with information sources and misinformation. Teachers should be adequately trained to deliver this.
- Social media companies should offer additional support for candidates at election times about how to protect themselves on the platform and report abuse.
- All elected representatives, and especially those in leadership roles, should model good behaviour.
- Political parties must consistently enforce their existing codes of conduct, with relevant sanctions when the code is not adhered to.
- There must be dedicated resources in each local police force to ensure an appropriate, consistent response to support elected representatives across the country. This would involve expanding the existing Operation Bridger support to include local councillors.
The report also identifies achievable timelines for implementing these recommendations, with some that can be introduced quickly, providing support for politicians that are currently in office or standing for election, and others that are long-term solutions that tackle the root causes.
The focus of the Commission will now be advocating for the adoption of these recommendations, in order to deliver positive and lasting change to public life in the UK.
Rt Hon Jacqui Smith, Chair of The Jo Cox Foundation and Former Home Secretary, said:
“Abuse and intimidation of elected politicians is a genuine threat to democracy in this country and now is the time to act if we want to prevent elected representatives from stepping down and ensure a diverse and talented future pipeline of politicians. Two main refrains have come up repeatedly in our research: firstly, a lack of a central coordinating force at government level, and secondly, a lack of political education which leads to confusion, misunderstanding, and abuse.
“We are urging all those identified in the report as having a role to play – including central government, policing institutions, and social media firms – to adopt these recommendations so that we can make real change for the benefit of our democracy.”
The recommendations have already received high-profile backing from politicians, with four former Prime Ministers – Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May – in support.
Tony Blair (Prime Minister: 1997-2007), said:
“Robust political debate is the cornerstone of a healthy democracy and is to be encouraged. Yet too often, our politics is dissolving into abuse, threats, and violence that only serve to undermine the democratic process. The recommendations of the Jo Cox Civility Commission are a vital step forward in changing this trajectory and I welcome its findings.”
Gordon Brown (Prime Minister: 2007-2010), said:
“In the immediate aftermath of Jo’s murder in 2016, I wrote about the downward spiral we were witnessing in our political culture and about the hope many of us had for Jo’s legacy to be a turning point. With the recommendations of the Jo Cox Civility Commission, we now have the chance to turn words into action on this issue and bring about the changes to our political culture that are well overdue.”
David Cameron (Prime Minister: 2010-2016, and current Foreign Secretary), said:
“When Jo Cox was killed in 2016, it was while doing her job and serving her constituents. As Prime Minister at the time, the outpouring of love and grief for her was a testament to Jo’s life and values. It is important and right that The Jo Cox Foundation has led this Commission to show a way forward that makes our democracy safer and civil for those who are elected to represent us.”
Theresa May MP (Prime Minister: 2016-2019), said:
“Jo Cox was a passionate advocate for inspiring women to enter politics and it is a fitting tribute to her memory for us to take action on abuse and intimidation, which otherwise deters people from putting themselves forward and standing for election. I was first elected in 1997 and since then we have witnessed the changing face of abuse and intimidation faced by elected representatives, both in the UK and in democracies worldwide. In 2018, the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission provided a roadmap for us to make great strides on that important issue and I believe the Jo Cox Civility Commission will do the same.”
The full report and recommendations are available to read now, and elected politicians (whether at a local or national level) and relevant organisations can pledge their support for the recommendations.
About the Jo Cox Civility Commission
The Jo Cox Foundation wants anyone, regardless of their background, to feel able to participate in our political discourse and be treated with respect. The Foundation launched the Jo Cox Civility Commission in February 2023 to find practical, cross-sector recommendations that, if adopted, would tackle the abuse and intimidation of elected representatives.
*Since February, the Commission engaged with significant numbers of stakeholders, including:
- 87 submissions to our open call, spanning serving and former politicians, government officials, policy professionals and other experts in the field.
- Interviews with relevant expert bodies, including the Electoral Commission, the Local Government Association, the National Association of Local Councillors, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA),the Northern Ireland Local Government Association, Operation Bridger representatives, and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).
- Interviews with and roundtable discussions with experts on representative democracy, including Elect Her, the Centenary Action Group, the Board of Deputies and the Disability Policy Centre.
- Interviews with current and former politicians in Westminster and devolved administrations.
About The Jo Cox Foundation
The Jo Cox Foundation makes meaningful change on issues that the late Jo Cox MP was passionate about. The charity works in three areas: nurturing stronger communities, championing respect in politics and advocating for a fairer world. Underpinning this work is the understanding that we have more in common than that which divides us. Jo Cox was murdered on 16 June 2016 in the place she loved – Batley and Spen – doing the work she loved, as an MP on behalf of her constituents.