A commitment to civil debate

By Cllr Arooj Shah | 01 December 2021

Coping with online abuse is, sadly, something political leaders are all too used to. The barrage of insults when a photograph or news story is posted on social media; the twisting of your words into something you would never say; the back-and-forth of personal abuse in the comments section of local paper websites. It feels all-encompassing.

But here in Oldham, the tone of political discussion has gone further than this, into the truly toxic. Many elected representatives across all parties regularly face abuse, harassment and intimidation online, and some of us unfortunately face it in person, too.

I am not ashamed to say I have been scared; particularly in the wake of the horrendous fatal stabbing of Sir David Amess MP.

Over the last few months I have faced regular death threats, I have been approached and verbally attacked in the street and, on a small number of occasions, physically threatened by people.

And I know I am not alone in facing these threats or these worries. I am not alone in seeing this impacting on my family members.

I am not seeking reduced accountability – quite the opposite. In the past few weeks I have introduced local area meetings in Oldham, where I have been answering questions about any topic and welcoming challenges on my policies and priorities. That is a central part of the job and essential to democracy.

What I am seeking is less hatred and less personal abuse – most of which is fuelled by lies and misinformation and, also, if I am frank, by the colour of my skin, my religion and the fact that I am a woman.

While we cannot control what a small number of people seeking to create – mistrust and division in our town, say, – we can collectively agree not to fuel it.

We can collectively agree to address misinformation where it rears its head, rather than use it for political gain, and we can collectively agree to publicly condemn those who seek to spread hate and incite abuse.

And this week that is what we did. I am proud to say that leaders from all parties in Oldham have come together to add their signature to a ‘politics not personalities’ pledge.

Together, we have committed to ensuring our debates are civil – even if we do come to arguments from differing standpoints – and treating each other with respect and decency.

That means doing things differently and uniting across the chamber to take a stand on the things that really matter – particularly when, after the pandemic, our residents need us most.

Cllr Arooj Shah is leader of Oldham MBC


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