GPS tracking apps, panic alarms, and a ban on after-dark canvassing - the safety precautions taken on Yorkshire's divided campaign trail

Yorkshire candidates in December’s General Election are taking unprecedented steps to protect their personal safety - and that of volunteers - as they start campaigning in the most divisive poll in modern history.

Tuesday, 5th November 2019, 5:39 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th November 2019, 5:45 am
Brigg and Goole Conservative candidate Andrew Percy. Photo: JPI Media

GPS apps which track the location of canvassers and panic buttons installed in homes are just some of the measures politicians have been pushed to as police and parties issued guidance on how to stay safe.

Volunteers were told not to hit the streets after dark and that they must go out in pairs or groups to avoid trouble.

Cheshire Police has already issued guidance to MPs and candidates, with police in Yorkshire expected to follow suit.

Liberal Democrat candidate for Sheffield Hallam, Laura Gordon. Photo: JPI Media

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Laura Gordon, the Liberal Democrats candidate in Sheffield Hallam, said: “The main thing we do is we have a canvassing app and that has all the data on it.

“One of the things we obviously do is go out in groups rather than on your own, particularly at the moment, but it can be difficult to keep track of people even in groups if they get stuck on the doorstep but with the app you can see where everyone is.”

She added that in the unlikely situation someone was taken into a house, it would also mean the police could track them.

She said: “I usually say things like that as a joke but it’s one of those jokes that has a kernel of truth to it.”

Political activists canvassing. Photo: Getty

Andrew Percy, the Tory candidate in Brigg and Goole, now carries a panic alarm on the advice on the police after he was the victim of an anti-semitic attack in the 2017 election.

During the last snap poll Mr Percy, who converted to Judaism in March 2017, was campaigning with staff when he said two people “screamed” at him for being “Israeli scum” and “Zionist scum”.

He said: “We are being very careful, I wear a panic alarm and last time my staff were spat at by Labour supporters, I was attacked in the street.”

Mr Percy said “the last election was really bad” and blamed a heightening of tensions on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who he said was using divisive language.

Batley and Spen Labour candidate Tracy Brabin. Photo: Tracy Brabin

“We never had any of this before Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum,” he said. “It’s all about trying to divide people, it’s so divisive the language they’re using.”

He referred Labour’s claim the Conservatives would “sell off the NHS” which he said was a “lie” and only served to raise tensions.

“The person who spat at my staff said ‘the Conservatives want to stop poor people having operations’, and then you have the rise of the far right also, that will be a factor in some areas, and a lot of the language around Brexit is very divisive.”

Mr Percy said his team had done a lot of surveying by post instead of in person, and none of them were going out alone or after dark.

Tracy Brabin, Labour MP in Batley and Spen - the constituency where Jo Cox was killed in 2016 - said: “We don’t want to put anyone’s safety at risk so we will be doing a lot of phone banking, and knocking in the day and early evening. I’m still having my Talk to Tracy events and I would encourage everybody to have a postal vote.”

And she said while Ms Cox was “always in our minds” she had to try and put what happened to her out of her head while campaigning.

She said: “If not I could not do my job and we have to have democracy.”

Labour’s Stella Creasy revealed on Twitter yesterday she had received an abusive letter signed off with Ms Cox’s name, in which the writer had told her to “die”, called her a “traitor” and that she had a “third rate mind”.

Ms Creasy said: “Today’s postbag again showing how being a woman in public life puts you in firing line.”

Liberal Democrat spokesman for the North Tim Farron said “politics has become far too nasty”.

He said: “The scenes we have seen over recent weeks and months of politicians, whether it be Anna Soubry, Jacob Rees Mogg or Diane Abbott, being intimidated and harassed on the streets should shame us all.

“Whatever our political views and however strongly we feel about them, there can be no place in our country for people - whether it be MPs or activists - to be met with verbal and physical abuse. We need the leaders of all parties to come out and make a real statement that this kind of behaviour will not be done in our name and is totally unacceptable."

While Andrea Jenkyns, Conservative candidate for Morley and Outwood, added: “It is a sad sign of the times that campaigning is under threat.

“If people are scared of campaigning and feel less free to engage, our democracy is weakened. I will take strong precautions to ensure my team is at all times safe and able to make the case for voting Conservative. My team will consistently work together and coordinate over weeks up to the election to ensure everyone can campaign."

It comes as ministers are urging social media companies to ensure candidates for Parliament are protected from online threats and abuse.

The Cabinet, meeting for the final time yesterday before polling on December 12, agreed on the importance of adequate safeguards and advice for those contesting the election.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said they would be writing to social media firms asking them to establish a "one-stop shop" setting out what constitutes unacceptable abuse and how to report it.

"We want social media companies to have an open and regular dialogue with the security, policing and electoral authorities throughout the campaign," the spokesman said.

"Cabinet agreed that people who intimidate public figures should face the consequences of their actions.

"The freedom to hold respectful, vibrant and robust debate cannot be an excuse to cause harm, spread hatred or impose views upon others.

"Cabinet was clear that a line is crossed when disagreement mutates into intimidation, violence or abuse."

The spokesman said security advice would be issued to all candidates standing in the election through returning officers.

At the same time, they are looking to the social media companies to work with officials and political parties to ensure their safety and reporting guidance reached "the widest possible audience of candidates and electoral staff as soon as possible".