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Ex Respect leader and anti-war activist Salma Yaqoob launches shock bid to be West Midlands Mayor

Left wing activist Salma Yaqoob has launched an audacious bid to win the Labour nomination to challenge Andy Street as West Midlands Mayor, BirminghamLive understands. Yaqoob has made an 11th hour application to win the Labour nomination.

By: Jane Haynes

Politics & People Editor

Interview with Salma Yaqoob at MAC, Edgbaston.

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Outspoken activist Salma Yaqoob has launched an audacious bid to win the right to challenge Andy Street as West Midlands Mayor, BirminghamLive understands.

Ms Yaqoob, former leader of the Respect Party and an ex Birmingham city councillor, has decided at the 11th hour to throw her hat into the ring to win the Labour nomination – despite questions over her party credentials.ADVERTISING

Subject to confirmation from Labour’s executive that her candidacy meets membership criteria, she will stand against Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne, thought to be the frontrunner, and unions favourite Pete Lowe from Dudley in the race to be selected as the party’s official candidate to take on Street next May.

Ms Yaqoob’s political career so far has been pockmarked with controversy – often, she has said, because she is a woman, a Muslim, and outspoken.

Salma Yaqoob

She is one of the founders of the Stop the War Coalition, the anti-war campaign which Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn chaired for four years.

Her candidacy is likely to renew rivalries within the local Labour movement – she has twice stood against Hall Green MP Roger Godsiff and in 2017 stood as an independent in Bradford, and has rejected previous overtures to join Labour.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with former Birmingham councillor Salma Yaqoob. This is the image Ms Yaqoob uses for her Twitter profile
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn with former Birmingham councillor Salma Yaqoob. This is the image Ms Yaqoob uses for her Twitter profile

She has received death threats from extremist Islamist groups for engaging in Western politics, while simultaneously coming under fire for refusing to stand in honour of a heroic soldier injured in Afghanistan – she later apologised to him and expressed regret about the fierce reaction that followed.

She was also criticised for describing the 7/7 London terror attack, which she condemned, as “reprisal events”.

The birth of Respect

Ms Yaqoob, 48, co-founded the Respect party in 2004, with Guardian columnist and environmentalist George Monbiot, because, she has said, she did not feel there was a home for her in any mainstream party at that time and wanted to form a radical, progressive coalition.

She stood against Hall Green MP Roger Godsiff in 2005 and 2010, coming a narrow second both times, and served on Birmingham City Council under the Respect flag. She stood down for personal reasons, citing ill health, and later quit the Respect party all together following comments made by George Galloway, Respect’s only MP, about rape.

Salma Yaqoob
Salma Yaqoob

He suggested accusations against Julian Assange by two Swedish women did not constitute rape “as most people understand it” and Assange was simply guilty of “bad sexual etiquette.”

Yaqoob was caught up in the backlash and left the party as a result.

Galloway later lost his seat in Parliament and is now plotting to take on Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson in West Bromwich East, claiming he is the pro Brexit and pro Corbyn candidate that Watson is not.

A second generation immigrant, Ms Yaqoob was born in Bradford to Pakistani parents recently arrived in England, moving to Birmingham soon after.

She grew up in Alum Rock, where she has described herself as ‘tomboyish’, playing football in the street with her friends and neighbours.

She has spoken of her political consciousness being awakened after she spat at and racially abused in the aftermath of 9/11.

Salma Yaqoob

Up til now there has been criticism that the Labour movement in the West Midlands had failed to put forward credible female or BAME candidates for mayor, after potential candidates Neena Gill and Lynda Waltho decided not to stand.

Earlier this week candidate Pete Lowe said it was a “problem” that Labour in the West Midlands had not been able to field a candidate who was not a white male and that, if he was in office, he would surround himself with a team that reflected the region’s diversity.

Ms Yaqoob’s nomination for the mayoral nomination was made ahead of the 31st August deadline for but has been subject to scrutiny by Labour’s National Executive.

We have contacted Ms Yaqoob for comment.

What Salma Yaqoob has said on…

Racism and Islamaphobia

“Every Muslim I know has a story to tell. We are resigned to being blamed and vilified for the actions of any Muslim anywhere in the world. No matter how often we denounce the horrible atrocities carried out by some fanatics, we are still associated with them.” (2016)

Salma Yaqoob with faith leaders at #NotInOurName rally organised to stand against terrorism

Equality Education

“There should be no place in our schools for the promotion of intolerance, division, sexism or homophobia.” (2014)

Being a Muslim

“Sometimes, me being a Muslim – I just wish it was invisible. A Muslim does something on the other side of the world and I get kind of wheeled out – ‘What do you think about it?’ – because I happen to wear a headscarf,” she said in an interview with the website High Profiles .

“I have this tussle about it because a part of me is like ‘It’s got nothing to do with me. I don’t expect you, as a white man, to understand everything another white man might do’; but at the same time I have to deal with the reality of the world right now, that people are genuinely fearful of Muslims – and some of it may be exaggerated and politicians have used it for their own agendas, but there  are  Muslims in the world who are doing terrible things – and as a human being and a citizen anything I can do that allays fears or brings down barriers I see as my responsibility. I shouldn’t have to do it, but it has to be done.” (2016)

Being elected to Sparkbrook ward on Birmingham City Council

She was elected to Sparkbrook as a Respect candidate in 2006 with 49.4% of the vote.

In her acceptance speech she said her election “challenged the traditional conservatism that denies leading public positions to women, and challenged the old order, which treats our communities as silent voting fodder. And it was only possible because we united people around a progressive message of anti racism and social justice.”

Rejecting overtures from Labour to stand as an MP

Ahead of the 2010 General Election she says she was given a choice of two traditional Labour strongholds, in Birmingham and the Black Country, if she staged a high-profile defection from Respect.

She said then: “I do not like mainstream politics which do not accurately reflect the concerns of many of the residents of inner city Birmingham.

“I was approached by Labour and offered a choice of two safe seats…if I could have made the areas stronger I would have taken the opportunity…if it was just about my career it would have been a nice move, but it is not all about me.”

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