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As the countdown begins for this year’s local elections in May, councillors and candidates across all political groups in Monmouthshire are being asked to commit to a fair and respectful election campaign. This follows a meeting last week of the Welsh Local Government Association, when all 22 council leaders agreed a joint statement confirming that they pledge to all adopt this approach.

In Monmouthshire, council leader, Cllr Richard John, Cllr. Dimitri Batrouni, leader of the Labour group, Cllr. Jo Watkins, leader of The Liberal Democrat group, and Cllr. Simon Howarth, leader of the Independents group, have agreed to pledge to uphold the values of fairness and respect as they campaign in the approach to May’s elections.

Above: Cllr Richard John (Conservative), Cllr Dimitri Bartouni (Labour), Cllr Jo Watkins (Liberal Democrat), Cllr Simon Howarth (Independents)

Monmouthshire County Council’s Leader Cllr. Richard John, who is also leader of the Conservative group, said: “Politics should focus on facts and respectful debate about differences of policy or priorities, not insults or intolerance, misinformation or misogyny, discrimination or division. The council elections are about giving voters to opportunity to choose individuals who will champion their local area and help make our county an even better place to live. I believe that by agreeing this cross-party pledge, we will support those putting their names forward for election and give the public a fair, open and respectful election.”

Labour group leader, Cllr. Dimitri Batrouni said: “I am pleased that we have come together to agree this fair and respectful approach. Unfortunately, across the UK there have been an increasing number of councillors and candidates across all political groups being subjected to abuse, threats and intimidation. As well as being totally unacceptable, this behaviour undermines the principles of free speech, democratic engagement and debate. I am proud to stand with colleagues in this pledge.”

Cllr. Jo Watkins, leader of the Liberal Democrat group said: “It is vital that we are all kind and fair in what we say and do. We need to also reassure and support those candidates that are standing for the first time this year, who are new to democratic life, as well those who are conscious that they are in a minority or have already experienced discrimination.”

Leader of the Independents group, Cllr. Simon Howarth, said: “One of Monmouthshire County Council’s core values is kindness, therefore we endeavour to treat everyone with kindness, courtesy and respect and we stand together to call for an end to abuse, intimidation and harassment of any kind. This is particularly relevant as we enter the key period in the run up to the local government elections in May.”

This agreement between all political groups, to hold a fair election campaign based on positive campaigning and merit, rather than personal attacks and smears against individuals, will also be ready to ‘call out’ any inappropriate behaviour and take a zero-tolerance approach to abuse. The Welsh Local Government Association stated: “Any inappropriate behaviour, whether that be verbal, physical or in writing on social media, is totally unacceptable and action will be taken if deemed necessary.”