Female MPs call harassment an assault on democracy

Two re-elected female MPs have relayed in sober victory speeches the intimidation and harassment they faced during the general election campaign.

Jess Phillips spoke of party workers being filmed in the street and making regular calls to police, while Shabana Mahmood said masked men had disrupted a community meeting, "terrifying" people in attendance.

Labour's Ms Phillips, who was heckled during her speech, said such experiences meant the election had been the worst in which she had stood, with fellow Labour politician Ms Mahmood calling the actions an "assault on democracy itself".

There was a notable police presence during counts in Birmingham where both women were candidates, with the West Midlands force confirming it was investigating several complaints lodged in the run-up to polling day.

While the pair held their city seats, contributing to their party's landslide national victory, each saw their majorities diminish, with Ms Phillips' lead cut to 689 votes.

Both MPs faced competition in their constituencies from candidates who campaigned on pro-Gaza tickets.

Ms Phillips - who last year quit the Labour frontbench to vote in Parliament for a Gaza ceasefire - narrowly beat Workers Party candidate Jody McIntyre to hold on to Yardley, while in Ladywood, Ms Mahmood received about 3,000 votes more than second-place independent candidate and lawyer Akhmed Yakoob.

Elsewhere in the city, long-standing Labour MP Khalid Mahmood lost his Perry Barr seat to independent Ayoub Khan who also stood on a pro-Gaza platform - an outcome repeated elsewhere in the country where Labour's vote was similarly squeezed.

After the result was called, amid shouts and boos from onlookers, including chants of "shame on you" and "free Palestine", Ms Phillips said: "I will carry on with my speech. I understand that a strong woman standing up to you is met with such reticence."

She then recounted how during the campaign a community activist went out to canvass with her, but was filmed by people in the street and had her car's tyres slashed.

"A young woman on her own delivering leaflets was filmed and screamed at by a much older man in the street," she said.

Ms Phillips also told the crowd that she was supposed to be joined by the family of slain MP Jo Cox on Thursday, who wanted to campaign with her.

"There is absolutely no way I could have allowed for them to see what was aggressive and violence in our democracy," she said.

She went on to say that the country was "in desperate need and our politics [is] in even greater need of cleaning up and I thank everyone in this room for making a really good spectacle of proving that for me".

She thanked West Midlands Police for taking "constant" phone calls from her.

Shabana Mahmood
"It is never acceptable to intimidate and threaten," Shabana Mahmood said [BBC]

Shabana Mahmood used her speech to relay how she, her family and supporters had been harassed during the election campaign, adding that some people had sought to "deny" her Muslim faith.

As police officers lined the stage as she spoke overnight, Ms Mahmood shared that physical threats had been reported to police, whom she thanked for going "above and beyond to ensure a safe and secure election".

She stated: "A lot will be written about this campaign, and it should be. This was a campaign that was sullied by harassment and intimidation."

She called the behaviour an "assault on democracy itself" and said it was "never acceptable to intimidate and threaten" people.

Baroness Shaista Gohir, who leads the national charity Muslim Women's Network UK, told BBC Radio WM: “I’ve been really concerned observing what has been happening to the female candidates in areas where you have a significant Muslim electorate.

“Men have also experienced abuse, but it was much greater for women - they are seen as easy targets, they have been intimidated, harassed and that’s really concerning.

“It’s almost to try to put them off from politics, it’s also sending a message to women not to get into politics."

Ms Gohir, who is from Birmingham, said: “When the dust settles we have to learn the lessons from this and prevent this from happening again.”

That point was echoed by Ms Mahmood, who said: "British politics must soon wake up to what happened at this election.

"And let me make this clear because this matters deeply to me and my family: It is never acceptable to deny anyone their faith; to brand them an infidel.

"I know what a Muslim looks like, a Muslim looks like me. I know what Muslim values are and they are British values too - decency, respect, kindness."

A spokesperson for West Midlands Police said a number of police officers were stationed at polling stations across Birmingham on Thursday to "offer reassurance and ensure public safety".

They said: "Our officers are aware of a number of incidents leading up to the election where people have reported criminal damage and harassment, and we are carrying out inquiries to identify those responsible."

Jess Phillips consults with people during the count
Jess Phillips (top) awaits the result of Thursday's polling [BBC]


By Rob Mayor, West Midlands political editor

None of the major party leaders visited Birmingham during the election campaign - perhaps overnight we found out why.

Tensions boiled never far from the surface at the count, and they threatened to spill over as the results were announced.

There was a sizeable police presence as a series of Labour MPs were loudly heckled during their victory speeches.

Election declarations are noisy affairs, but this was different. At one point the returning officer threatened to have people removed from the venue.

Labour winners pledged to unite their communities and regain trust over the issue of Gaza. That will take serious work.

A graphic which reads 'more on general election 2024'

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