Oldham’s council leader says she has been sent death threats and ‘physically threatened’ since taking up the role.
Speaking after MP Sir David Amess was stabbed to death at his constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea, in Essex, on October 15, Coun Arooj Shah said the tragic event had ‘brought into sharp focus the risk we all take when representing our communities’.
The Conservative MP was the second serving representative to be killed in the past five years, following the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016.
She was killed outside a library in Birstall, West Yorkshire, where she was due to hold a constituency surgery.
A one minute’s silence was held to remember the Southend West MP, Mr Amess, at the start of Oldham’s most recent full council meeting.
Addressing councillors, leader Arooj Shah, whose car was firebombed outside her Glodwick home in July, called Mr Amess’ death an ‘horrific, tragic’ event.
She added: “That a man who was so committed to his constituents could be targeted while doing his job, while helping those he presented is just truly heartbreaking and terrifying.”
Coun Shah told members they had a duty to create a ‘catalyst for change’ in Oldham and elsewhere.
“The tone of political discourse in Oldham, particularly online, has become truly toxic,” she said.
“I know that many of you across all parties regularly face abuse, harassment and intimidation online and some of us unfortunately face it in person too.
“Much of that abuse is incited by misinformation spread online. For clarity, I am not seeking reduced accountability. I welcome challenge on my policies and priorities, that’s 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’m going to be really frank, by the colour of my skin, by my religion and by the fact that I am a woman.
“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.
“I know that I’m not alone in facing these threats and these worries and I know I’m not alone in seeing this impact on my family members.”
Coun Shah told councillors that while they could not control what the ‘small number of people seeking to create mistrust and division in our town say and do’, they could jointly agree not to ‘fuel it’.
“We can collectively agree to address misinformation where it rears its head rather than using it for political gain,” she said.
“And we can collectively agree to publicly condemn those who seek to spread hate and incite abuse.
“All of us in this room became councillors because we wanted to improve this borough, and that won’t happen while we allow those with their own agendas to divide us.
“As councillors I believe the best way to combat the hate and vitriol we see online and tragically in real life is by working well together and with mutual respect.”