Salma Yaqoob, the former leader of the Respect Party who is controversially backed by high-profile figures in the Labour left for the party’s West Midlands mayoral selection, has been shortlisted as a candidate in the race.
The decision to include Yaqoob as well as Liam Byrne and Pete Lowe on the shortlist of three was made today despite furious complaints from various groups within Labour that have raised concerns over her record on LGBT rights and recent opposition to Jeremy Corbyn’s party.
According to a well-placed source, the Labour panel responsible for the shortlist was made up of national executive committee (NEC) members Huda Elmi, Yasmine Dar and Diane Abbott, as well as regional representatives Sue Moffatt and Rory Shannon.
Yaqoob stood as an independent parliamentary candidate in the 2017 election in Bradford West, where Naz Shah was the Labour candidate and sitting MP. Shah has demanded that Yaqoob not be allowed to run in the West Mids race, according to an email leaked to the Guardian.
Shah has claimed Yaqoob ran a “despicable” campaign against her two years ago that led the MP to consider attempting suicide. The Bradford representative says that she was opposed in a way that used patriarchal politics and attacked her ‘honour’ as a woman.
In response to those allegations, Yaqoob said: “I am genuinely sorry to read that Naz Shah has felt suicidal. As a psychotherapist, and someone who suffers from depression myself and campaigns to address stigma related to mental ill health, I understand how distressing such a state is. I have lost one of my closest friends to suicide and take the matter very seriously.”
Yaqoob, an anti-war activist, has been backed in her candidacy bid by Momentum nationally, and leading Labour left figures including Momentum chair Jon Lansman, activist and journalist Owen Jones and commentator Grace Blakeley.
Concerns have now been raised by the LGBT PLP, Rosie Duffield as the new chair of the Women’s PLP and the local organisation LGBT+ Labour West Midlands. Some argue that Yaqoob should neither be a member, nor should party rules – namely that anyone standing for public office must have been a member for a significant period of time – have been waived.
It is alleged that Yaqoob once described being LGBT as choosing a “lifestyle” on the BBC, and may have done the same on a 2010 leaflet. In response, the candidate tweeted: “My support and defence of #LGBTQ+ rights and equality is consistent and longstanding… I am saddened at attempts to misportray my record of solidarity.”
Critics have also claimed that Yaqoob agreed to drop a commitment to gay rights from the 2005 Respect Party manifesto, which referred to “lifestyle choices”. The basis for this is a Weekly Worker article reporting on a meeting that year.
It is also alleged that Yaqoob shared a stage with Yasir Qadhi, a hardline Muslim preacher who apparently said “killing homosexuals and stoning adulterers was part of their religion” according to The Times.
There is a recording of her appearing to criticise Andrew Moffat, the gay assistant headteacher who created an LGBT education programme in Birmingham that led to anti-LGBT protests outside schools in the city.
Update, 6pm: Yaqoob has described the recent allegations made about her as “either false or seriously misleading” and addressed each of them in turn in a lengthy statement that has been tweeted.
A series of allegations have been made about me that are either false or seriously misleading. I address each below.
I stand in full solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community and I am absolutely committed to confronting all forms of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. pic.twitter.com/x5TYd2ujn8
— Salma Yaqoob (@SalmaYaqoob) October 21, 2019
Yaqoob was described by shadow cabinet member Richard Burgon on Saturday as “a courageous opponent of racism and war, who inspires people to fight for a better society based on justice, equality and socialism”.
The bid of former frontbencher Liam Byrne, also shortlisted, has been backed by GMB, Usdaw and Community – as well as John McDonnell. The Shadow Chancellor’s endorsement came as a surprise to some members, with Byrne having co-founded the Blairite group Progress.
Ex-leader of Dudley Council Pete Lowe has the support of UNISON, BFAWU, FBU, Musicians’ Union and NUM, and has been endorsed by several Momentum groups in the West Midlands region. He received the majority of constituency party nominations.