COUNCILLORS of all political parties in Cornwall have spoken out about abuse and threats they’ve faced with one former MP saying his family even had to go into hiding, while a female councillor said she’s worried about taking her children to public events following threats she has faced in the past.

The comments were made after prospective Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for the Camborne-Redruth seat at the next election Cllr Thalia Marrington tabled a motion to stamp out the growing “normalisation” of hatred within politics, following the growth in abusive “keyboard warriors”.

The councillor for Mousehole and Newlyn called for Cornwall Council to commit to taking a strong, clear and visible approach to dealing with harassment, abuse and intimidation and calls for officers to consult with councillors and produce a report setting out clear steps to improve and strengthen protections against such abuse.

Former Lib Dem MP Andrew George – who now represents parts of West Cornwall on the local authority and will stand again at the next election – told a meeting of the full council on Tuesday, January 16 that he had received death threats, had his phones hacked and his family even had to go into hiding. He received police protection as a result.

He was good friends with murdered Conservative MP David Amess, which he said proves friendships could cross the political divide. Cllr George said he felt the late MP’s loss very deeply.

Labour’s Cllr Kate Ewert, who represents the Rame Peninsula and St Germans, has previously spoken about frightening harassment she has faced from members of the public. She told fellow councillors she has received more threats and abuse online as a result of speaking out. She now felt she could not recommend women in Cornwall entering local politics and was even worried about taking her children to public events in case they face abuse.

Cllr Mike Bunney (St Mewan & Grampound, Mebyon Kernow/Green Group) said he had received homophobic abuse but only after he’d become a councillor. “So when you stand up and you speak up attempts are made to intimidate you and silence you, and I have to smile because an attempt to silence me is most likely going to fail.” His comment was greeted by a round of applause.

He added: “The vast majority of Cornwall celebrates diversity and respect. We need to go so much further. This is a motion that shouldn’t have to be presented. We really are better when we pull together and support each other regardless of political background.

“The diversity in this chamber is not good enough. If I was asked by a young person should they become a local councillor, I’m going to be really honest, I would struggle to answer that wholly positively. It’s an incredibly challenging role in very difficult economic times. But I would say at the end of that conversation, you absolutely must stand – we need a council chamber, we need parish councils, we need MPs that genuinely reflect the best of our communities and can work together.”

Cllr Andrew Mitchell (St Ives West & Towednack, Independent) said he was fortunate that in 31 years in Cornish politics his experience had been largely positive. However, he received abuse from members of the public following the issue of dogs on beaches in St Ives.

When he approached the council’s legal department about some of the comments made about him, Cllr Mitchell said he was told “Well, it’s part of the job, isn’t it?” He said he hoped that attitude had now changed.

Cllr Richard Williams-Pears, the council’s Conservative portfolio holder for transport, told the meeting that he could guarantee that everyone in the chamber had been abused. He cited a personal example of being shouted at when he took his family to the beach. “That’s not good enough in this day and age,” he said. “If we want strong and healthy democracy going forward, this has to change.”

Council leader Linda Taylor (St Ives East, Lelant & Carbis Bay, Conservative) said she was having a meeting with Devon and Cornwall Police’s chief constable and the police commissioner Alison Hernandez about a point of contact between the police and the council when members suffer abuse.

Outlining her motion, Cllr Marrington said: “I believe if we continue to accept the toxicity that pervades politics as the norm it will damage democracy. We must remember the horrendous murders of Jo Cox, David Amess and Cllr Andy Pennington who sacrificed his life protecting the MP Nigel Jones.

“I feel driven, like many of you, to drive hate and toxicity from politics. So what is the answer? I believe it should be simple – we must all play our part in setting the tone and what I believe is missing is leadership; leadership from the council and leadership from us as councillors. If we set a high bar with our conduct, we’ll inspire trust from those we serve.”

Karen Glasson (Probus & St Erme, Conservative), seconded the motion. While holding her 11-week-old baby daughter, she added: “We heard in this chamber last year some harrowing accounts of abuse and harassment of councillors across the board and I was saddened to read after that debate some negative public comments.

“We must stop normalising or accepting any abuse. We must have a zero tolerance and it must start now. I have one daughter who’s about to turn voting age and if she asks me now if she should enter local politics I would warn her it can be really hard, particularly on female councillors though we know not exclusively.”

Pointing to her baby, Cllr Glasson added: “I also have another daughter and I hope she will look back on this in 18 years time and ask why I felt a need to back a motion to stop abuse, because by then it would be unthinkable to tolerate any harassment, abuse or intimidation of anyone who put themselves in a position in the public eye.”

The council voted in favour to commit to the Defending Democracy motion to take active steps to improve the support for members and officers affected and to try and create a healthier and safer environment for those working for and at Cornwall Council.