This narrative of an illegitimate democracy was arguablywhat motivated the murderer of Jo Cox, who is alleged to have shouted “this isfor Britain” before carrying out his attack. The murder, which took place days before the EU referendum,was a great shock to both the country and to the world. This was the first timein over 25 years that a sitting British MP had been killed. I ask Smith whetherthe murder was a freak occurrence, or evidence of a much wider phenomenon. “Whathappened to Jo Cox is not a one-off. There has already been a plot to murderRosie Cooper MP earlier this year which was stopped by the police.” Jacquirefers to the plot by far-right extremist who purchased a sword online andresearched how to cut the jugular artery before his plans were thwarted by aninformant. Renshaw was sentenced to life in May 2019. It is especially chillingto think that there is a real risk of future attacks. “There is considerable evidence of a growth in intimidation,death threats and abuse. The business model incentivises this – there is apremium for agitation.” I meet Jacqui at the Big Tent Ideas Festival, a day of political debate and discussion with MPs, academics and journalists held in Mudchute in South London. The former Home Secretary was appointed chair of the Jo Cox Foundation in May 2019. As is customary at all political events these days, before entering the venue I have to pass through a thorough security check, where a metal detector is passed up and down me, the contents of my backpack emptied out , each item individually inspected – a reminder of how much effort is now needed just to ensure MPs are able to engage with the public in safety. Jacqui is speaking at a panel discussion on the abuse facingthose in public life, alongside Angela Eagle MP and Lord Jonathan Evans. Amongthe ideas discussed on the panel was Eagle’sproposal for an outright ban on all anonymous social media accounts, given that these are disproportionatelyresponsible for the proliferation of abuse. I ask Jacqui whether that’s somethingshe supports: She seems reticent to endorse a full ban on anonymity. But, I ask Jacqui, while social media has given a platformto those who wish to abuse MPs online, what difference would it make to shutthem down? The people would still exist, they would still hold and express thesame views, only it would be less visible to the rest of us as they gounderground. The volume of abuse directed at parliamentarians hasballooned in recent years. Research by Amnesty International on online abuse in2017 revealed the full extent of the problem. In the period January to June2017, 8,121 out of 140,057 ofall tweets mentioning @HackneyAbbott, the Twitter Handle of Diane Abbott MP wereclassified as abusive. Women and minority MPs are disproportionately affected:the shadow Home Secretary receives almost half of all abusive tweets directedat women MPs. Does the severity of the risk call for strong legislativechange to mitigate the risk of further violence? Smith is clear that the Jo Coxfoundation is not in the business of lobbying for changes to the law, or tomake party-political points: “We don’t want changes in legislation but rather ajoint standard agreed between all parties. The Foundation has three objectives;local communities that are engaged, cohesive and able to contribute to what’sgoing on; a national politics that is lively but also respectful and developinga fairer world.” A message which I think few can disagree with. “What shocks me is the way in which verbal and physicalabuse is so prominent – I’m really worried about that. I’ve spoken to peoplewho say they want to step down. People who changed their roles because ofthreats and intimidation. People say it prevents them from coming forward.” Jacqui tells me the visibility of abusive online messages iscausing those who work or want to work in politics to reconsider. Some rudimentary Twitter research confirms that theproblem persists. [mi3] Justin September 2019 I found hundreds of abusive Tweets directed at Diane Abbott,who was called a ‘traitor’ 104 times, ‘fat’ 27 times, ‘ugly’ 20 times, ‘cow’ 18times, ‘twat’ 18 times, ‘bitch’ 14 times, ‘pig’ 10 times. I also found over 100tweets in the last 3 days alone calling Diane ‘thick’. It’s quite shocking tosee how brazenly people are prepared to issue insults and verbal attacks ontheir representatives – I’m minded not to quote several full length abusive tweetsas Amnesty have done. “There might be circumstances like whistleblowing whereanonymity is justified,” the former Home Secretary says. “What is not justifiedis hiding behind anonymity to commit criminal acts.” “Everybody has the right to demonstrate and protest – thatis a healthy thing but not when it undermines the democratic system. One of thethings identified is a view that the democratic system is illegitimate.” “It’s not just that social media is what people sayface-to-face. Social media radicalises: it develops the attitudes not justfacilitates communication.” Smith tells me.