Dealing with online abuse is, unfortunately, something political leaders are all too used to. The deluge of insults when a photo or a report is published on social networks; twisting your words into something you would never say; the back and forth of personal abuse in the comments section of local newspaper websites. He feels all-encompassing.
But here in Oldham, the tone of the political discussion has gone beyond that, into the truly toxic. Many elected officials from all parties regularly experience abuse, harassment and bullying online, and some of us unfortunately also face it in person.
I am not ashamed to say that I was afraid; particularly in the wake of the horrific fatal stabbing of MP Sir David Amess.
Over the past few months, I have been regularly threatened with death, approached and verbally assaulted on the street and, on a few occasions, physically threatened by people.
And I know I’m not the only one facing these threats or concerns. I am not the only one to see this impacting members of my family.
I’m not trying to reduce liability – quite the contrary. Over the past few weeks, I have introduced local meetings in Oldham, where I have answered questions on any topic and welcomed challenges on my policies and priorities. It is a central element of work and essential to democracy.
What I’m looking for is less hate and less personal abuse – most of which is fueled by lies and misinformation and, also, if I’m frank, by my skin color, my religion and the makes me a woman.
While we cannot control what a small number of people seek to create – the distrust and division in our city, say, – we can collectively agree not to fuel it.
We can collectively agree to tackle disinformation where it occurs, rather than using it for political gain, and we can collectively agree to publicly condemn those who seek to spread hatred and incite abuse.
And this week, that’s what we did. I am proud to say that leaders of all Oldham parties have come together to sign off on a pledge “Politics, Not People”.
Together, we are committed to ensuring that our debates are civil – even if we come to arguments from different points of view – and to treat each other with respect and decency.
It means doing things differently and coming together across the bedroom to take a stand on the things that really matter – especially when, after the pandemic, our residents need us most.
Cllr Arooj Shah is the leader of Oldham MBC
Analysis – Stop the rise of hatred