The recent General Election was much the most unpleasant election I've ever been involved in. Initially I'd decided to say nothing about it. 'Heat of the kitchen' etc.. "Put it behind you Glyn, and move on". And "Don't let the bu***rs get you down". But it's not as simple as that. It's become a major issue of debate at Westminster. The widespread 'casual' aggression and intimidation of candidates has become a real concern across all political parties.
Of course unpleasantness at elections is nothing new - even in the gentle rural constituency of Montgomeryshire. Since I've been an MP, there have been knife attacks on fellow MPs and Jo Cox was murdered on the street just over a year ago. I'd had someone tell a friend of mine, outside my office the "the only way we'll get rid of him is to shoot the bas***d". He meant me! Actually, it wasn't the only way because he had a go at running me down in Morrison's car park a few days later!
But back to the General Election. A young lady was delivering my leaflets in a quiet Montgomeryshire village, when a big man came chasing after her, shouted at her nose-to-nose as spitting at her. An hour later she was still traumatised. Ended up as an apology in the police station. And I turned up at one of my public meetings to be confronted by a group of around 20, chanting "Tory Pig", "Tory Pig". I was alone. Shamefully, there were small children dragooned to join in. The young lady along with me to take notes, and already in the hall, has declared that she will never go there again. Fear. First time I've felt the need to check over my car before driving home. Shouldn't be like this anywhere. But in Montgomeryshire....
And there was the obscene daubing and destruction of my posters. And it was only my posters. No other party's posters. Then there were the bare-faced lies and deceit plastered all over the Internet by keyboard warriors, full of their custard and cowardice. And fliers all over the place - many sjtill there. The problem is not one that bothers me, personally. I played in the back row for years, and was never the most gentle of souls. I can look after myself. But not everyone can. I'm told that research suggests lots of potential candidates don't feel they can cope with the aggression. They opt out.
What's to be done. I do think that MPs can help themselves by cutting out the vulgar shouting at Prime Minister's Questions - even if it is almost the only part of Parliamentary proceedings that a significant proportion of the public bother to watch. And there's the appalling QuestionTime on BBC, where guests are sometimes chosen on the basis of their reputations to be rude, and audience members the same. The TV election debates are in the same mould. All a dreadful example to young people. The ability to disagree without being offensive is disappearing. But for the real abuse there will have to be jail sentences - in my opinion. Democracy is important. It underpins the way we live, with respect for each other. This needs to be defended. Civilised society requires those who undermine it to hear the clang of a prison cell door behind them.