Labour mayoral hopeful accused of homophobia, escalating bitter row over selection

Labour parliamentarians’ LGBT+ group demands removal of Salma Yaqoob from shortlist for West Midlands metro mayor candidacy

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 21 October 2019 19:28
Labour mayoral hopeful Salma Yaqoob accused of homophobia

The bitter row over Labour’s choice of candidate for West Midlands metro mayor has escalated after members of the parliamentary party’s LGBT+ group demanded the removal of one hopeful for alleged homophobic comments.

The group – including seven MPs and a former party general secretary – has written to Labour’s regional director calling for Salma Yaqoob to be struck off the shortlist for a candidate to fight the mayoral election next year.

Her inclusion has already sparked controversy because the former Respect Party leader only joined Labour earlier this year, two years after standing against the party’s Naz Shah in the general election with a campaign which the frontbencher has described as “despicable”.

But she passed a selection interview on Sunday, making it onto the shortlist for the mayoral candidacy alongside MP Liam Byrne and unions’ favourite Pete Lowe.

In the letter to regional director Fadel Takrouri, seen by The Independent, the parliamentarians express “dismay” at the party’s decision to accept Ms Yaqoob’s application to join Labour and to stand in the mayoral race.

The former Birmingham councillor “has form when it comes to homophobia and sharing a platform with those who propagate it”, they said.

But Ms Yaqoob – backed by the left-leaning Momentum movement – denies all allegations of homophobia, issuing a statement to say she “stands with my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters against all forms of oppression and remains committed to upholding and advocating for equality and human rights”.

The letter is signed by MPs Stephen Doughty, Angela Eagle, Chris Bryant, Ben Bradshaw, Ged Killen, Peter Kyle and Wes Streeting, ex-general secretary Lord Collins and MEP Seb Dance.

They accused Ms Yaqoob of referring to homosexuality as a “choice of lifestyle” during a TV debate.

And they said she had “waded into” the ongoing row about protests over equality rights teaching at a Birmingham school.

A recording emerged today of a hustings at which Ms Yaqoob was asked to condemn the protesters and responded that, while she condemned “blatantly homophobic” statements, the issue was “nuanced” and that responsibility should be placed “on all sides”. She accused the school’s headteacher of thinking he could “get away with” failing to engage with parents over the No Outsiders anti-discrimination lessons.

The letter also alleged Ms Yaqoob shared a platform with Yasir Qadhi, who was recorded apparently telling students that killing homosexuals is part of Islam.

Protests have taken place outside Parkfield School in Birmingham

And they highlighted that she was a spokesperson for the leader of the now defunct Islamic Party of Britain, which has supported “treatment” for homosexuals and the death penalty in certain cases.

The parliamentarians also voiced “solidarity” with Ms Shah, who earlier this month denounced Ms Yaqoob as “unfit for office” because of the conduct of her campaign in the 2017 election in Bradford West.

Ms Shah wrote to Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee claiming Ms Yaqoob had allowed a campaign which sought to use her background as a divorcee raised on benefits by a single parent to “dishonour” her in the eyes of Muslim voters, and allowed a local imam to “hijab shame” her for not wearing a headscarf.

She claimed Ms Yaqoob’s campaign exploited patriarchal and misogynistic clan politics within Bradford’s Kashmiri and Pakistani-origin communities to try to discredit her.

Labour MP Naz Shah

In their letter, the LGBT+ group said: “We stand in solidarity with our colleague Naz Shah, who was subjected to an appalling campaign when Salma Yaqoob stood against her in 2017. The facts about this are clear and indisputable.

“We believe the Labour Party made a terrible mistake when Salma Yaqoob was given her membership card and a terrible error of judgement in waiving the very sensible rule of requiring someone to have been a member for a significant period of time before being allowed to stand for public office.

“We urge the Labour Party’s Regional Office and NEC to revisit and reverse these decisions immediately.”

Ms Yaqoob has denied Ms Shah’s claims but accepted her decision to stand against her was “ill-judged” and called for a “constructive resolution” that would allow them both to move on.

She rejected claims she had described homosexuality as a “choice of lifestyle”, insisting she had in fact been referring in the BBC broadcast to religious communities whose faith was a matter of choice.

“I was interrupted at that point and told being LGBT is not a lifestyle choice – a claim I had not made and do not believe,” she said. “I tried to clarify but was not given an opportunity to do so.”

And in a letter to Mr Takrouri and party general secretary Jennie Formby, she rejected all the group's allegations as "false or seriously misleading".

Ms Yaqoob denied opposing LGBT-inclusive education in schools, insisting that she condemns anyone seeking to exclude the issue from the syllabus.

And she denied ever having worked as spokesperson for former Islamic Party leader Mohammed Naseem or of being aware of him calling for the death penalty for gay people.

She also said she was not aware of offensive comments by Sheikh Yasir Qadhi, but noted that she often shared platforms with speakers with whose views she disagreed, including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and right-wing controversialist Katie Hopkins.

Ms Yaqoob added: “My support and defence of LGBTQ+ rights and equality is consistent and long-standing. Whilst I am not surprised, given the smears I have already been subjected to since standing for selection in the mayoral race, I am saddened at attempts to misportray my record of solidarity.”

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