The entrance of former Respect party leader Salma Yaqoob into the contest for the Labour candidacy for West Midlands mayor is causing a bitter row within Momentum and the Labour left as a whole throughout the region.
In principle, the idea of a female ethnic minority candidate is attractive. But Yaqoob’s record makes her a highly problematic prospective candidate.
There are many aspects of Yaqoob’s record that have caused concern, but the most obvious is her campaign, as an independent candidate, against Labour’s Naz Shah in Bradford West at the last general election in 2017.
Now, Shah – Labour’s minister for women and equalities – is leading calls against Yaqoob becoming the party’s candidate in the mayoral election.
In a series of tweets, Shah described how Yaqoob’s campaign to unseat her in 2017 left her “feeling suicidal”.
Shah continued: “I absolutely feel that her whole rhetoric of her campaign was about inciting hatred towards me.”
She accuses Yaqoob of “honour abuse”, of failing to challenge men who slut-shamed her (Shah) at campaign events and of suggesting voters should back her at the polls because wore a hijab and Shah didn’t. There seems to be convincing video evidence (albeit in Urdu) to support Shah’s charges.
“I do not have confidence that Salma Yaqoob would win West Midlands for Labour at all,” the Labour MP said in a video on Twitter.
“And the reason I don’t [is] because I don’t believe she’s Labour. I don’t see her as Labour.”
Meanwhile, in a letter to the Labour Party, campaign group LGBT+ Labour accused Yaqoob of being homophobic and of saying being LGBT was “a choice of lifestyle” on national television.
Yaqoob has strongly denied the accusations, and says her words were taken out of context.
However, it is a matter of record that Yaqoob’s only intervention into the long-running row over LGBT education in Birmingham schools has been to criticise the schools and to disparage Andrew Moffat, the teacher who drew up the “No Outsiders” programme at the centre of the controversy. She has very noticeably not criticised the bigots protesting outside the schools, despite claiming to support LGBT rights.
Until Yaqoob entered the contest, the Labour left and most unions (who’d expressed a view) in the West Midlands were supporting Pete Lowe, the former leader of Dudley Council, against the well-resourced campaign of right winger Liam Byrne. Lowe is standing on the following five main pledges:
1. Taking radical action to bolster tenants and residents’ rights, working with organisations such as Acorn to protect residents and deliver a resourced “housing first” initiative to help rough sleepers.
2. Reducing the cost of transport for working families, making sure that we reform fares across the region so that it doesn’t break the bank to get to work.
3. Testing experimental and innovative green policies to drive an environmental revolution across our region.
4. Establishing a People’s Bank to invest in our towns and cities, growing cooperatives and ethical enterprise that will give everyone better opportunities at more than the living wage.
5. Uniting our communities and helping everyone get the support they need when they need it through new community hubs.
He has also pledged to demand the “restoration of all funding lost by councils in the West Midlands since the Tories came to power in 2010” and to campaign “to repeal anti-union legislation”.
Until the entrance of Salma Yaqoob into the contest, most West Midlands Momentum groups who had taken a view were backing Lowe. Now Momentum’s National Coordinating Group (without consulting local groups in the West Midlands) has put out a statement supporting Yaqoob.
Momentum in Birmingham and Wolverhampton have voted to support Yaqoob, but Coventry, Dudley, Solihull, and Walsall are supporting Lowe.