A POLITICAL platform for Muslim women which was dubbed a "hustings in all but name" was spectacularly shunned by Bradford West Labour candidate Naz Shah after she walked out before the debate had started in a show of defiance.
Prior to the meeting starting, Ms Shah asked that because the constituency's Conservative candidate George Grant was in the audience, that he be given a chance to speak.
Her request was refused because she was told "it's not a hustings" and she walked out of the room to a mixture of applause and boos.
Event organisers, The Bradford Muslim Women's Council, said Ms Shah's actions had been "unexpected".
But in an equally spectacular turn of events, no sooner had she departed from the hall than Mr Grant was invited to take to the stage.
Muslim Women's Council chief executive Bana Gora said: "Now that Naz has left we have an extra 10 minutes. Should we ask George Grant to come up?"
He took Ms Shah's vacated seat to shouts and applause.
Ms Shah said in a statement issued soon afterwards: "I have not and will not ever compromise my values.
"Today I felt no option but to walk out of a packed event being held in Bradford West.
"I was originally invited to a Muslim Women's Council event, having being offered a platform to speak to Muslim women to encourage participation in the democratic process amongst a group of traditionally under represented and disengaged voters, with the independent candidate Salma Yaqoob.
"What I attended tonight was not the above rather a hustings in all but name. The event was opened up to men and women and the wider community. It was not a Muslim women's event, the audience being predominantly male.
"I felt very uneasy at the exclusion of my fellow candidates and urged the organisers to open the platform prior to the event.
"At the risk of being 'empty chaired' I attended.
"The Conservative candidate George Grant was present at the 'hustings' so in the interest of fairness and democracy, having respectfully requested that George Grant be given the equal platform and my request being flatly denied by the organisation I could not continue partaking in an event which was discriminatory on the grounds of both religion and gender.
"As I stand on a platform of fairness and equality as a proud Labour party candidate, these are our values which I refuse to comprise.
"I have already committed to four other hustings and I look forward to engage the voters of Bradford West and my fellow candidates in a free, fair and open debate."
After the meeting Ms Gora said the reason they invited Mr Grant to speak after refusing Ms Shah's request was because there was a space and extra time.
"It was about efficiency and that's why we asked Mr Grant if he wanted to speak. He was given the opportunity to join us and he did.
"I think the way Naz has behaved has been highly unprofessional and there was no need for public outbursts, particularly when she knew she was coming to a Muslim Women's Council meeting. It was not a hustings."
The chair of the meeting Selina Ullah added: "She (Naz) was grandstanding. It was unexpected."
This morning, Mr Grant released a statement seeking to explain why he took Ms Shah's place.
He said he had "strongly objected" to the premise of the event beforehand.
He said: "Naz Shah, my Labour opponent, agreed with me on this. I was extremely grateful for her taking the opportunity to stand up and request that I be permitted to join her and Salma Yaqoob on the platform. I expected the organisers to agree to this under the circumstances. What I did not expect was that she would walk out in the way she did.
"This then left me in an extremely difficult position.
"It was clear from the audience that the vast majority wanted me to participate, and indeed when I started by saying I did not think it appropriate for me to set out my political positions given the circumstances but rather restrict myself to a statement on why I felt it important I be allowed to speak, the audience again made it clear they wanted a full debate.
"On reflection, perhaps it would have been better had I walked out regardless. My concern at that moment in time, however, was that it would have looked very suspect and would have almost certainly been interpreted in all sorts of ways had the Conservative candidate promptly upped-sticks and followed the Labour candidate out the door.
"Equally, my whole objection was that candidates should be permitted to address the meeting regardless of their gender or religion, and here I was being asked to do exactly that.
"Naz Shah had her own reasons for leaving and I greatly respect those.
"It is never a dull moment at the Carlisle Business Centre, but my big worry then as now was that the story became - and has indeed already become - the dramatic exit rather than what was, and was not, actually said on the various issues affecting Bradford West."
The Muslim Women's Council has today hit back at Ms Shah, saying in a statement: "If she was taking a principled stand as she claimed, she should have declined our invitation.
"Instead we were bombarded with a barrage of calls from Naz Shah’s office and her male supporters, who eventually hijacked the event and were restrained by police and our own security.
"The heckling and tense atmosphere yesterday was reminiscent of the baradari clan politics that have marred Bradford for so long.
"Had Naz Shah sincerely believed this was a women-only event, she should not have invited her male supporters to attend, which leads us to believe she was intent on mounting insurmountable reputational damage on our organisation and by extension, on Bradford, the very city she claims to champion."
The police say they were attending reports that the event was oversubscribed.
A spokesman for West Yorkshire Police said: "Officers attended a report of an event being oversubscribed in Carlisle Road, Bradford at about 8pm last night.
"Officers spoke with those in attendance. No arrests were made."
Ms Yaqoob said: "The Board of MWC felt that inviting to the stage two women hailing from Bradford West to share their interesting journeys into politics, and engage in a discussion about their choices would be a stimulating and uplifting experience.
"Instead, we witnessed a dramatic Bollywood scene, in which Naz Shah disrespectfully stormed out of the event on the pretext of ‘equality’.
"This had nothing to do with equality, but all to do with politics. It is her constituents who are vulnerable and need defending, not Conservative candidate George Grant, who actually stayed at the event and took to the stage when she left – so much for her claim the event was prejudiced against Christians and white males.
"It was a pre-planned exit designed to score political points at the expense of a hard working and respected local women's organisation, as well as constituents who had shown a genuine interest in hearing from both of us."
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