Salma Yaqoob: so do we welcome her in or slam the door in her face?

by Kevin Meagher

In the old days it used to be so easy. You joined a political party and stuck with it. There may have been tough times and periods when you disagreed or despaired at the direction it went in, but the thought of leaving? Never.

When news broke last night that Salma Yaqoob, the leader of the Respect party, had quit, not only as leader, but the party altogether, Twitter was quickly alive with talk that she is now set to join Labour.

Not that it is wise to trust the instant pontificatorate on Twitter, but you can see why the rumours spread. Yaqoob’s previous public utterances about Labour have been carefully calibrated to leave the door ajar. In an interview with The Guardian back in April she was asked how to describe her politics: “I would characterise them as what people think the Labour party should stand for: social justice, and foreign policy about peace, not war.”

There are no references to George Galloway in her resignation statement, but there didn’t need to be. Following Kate Hudson’s withdrawal as the party’s candidate in the forthcoming Manchester Central by-election over Galloway’s careless remarks about rape, the ruptures within Respect are all too apparent. Rather than feign surprise, it is reasonable to ask what took Hudson and now Yaqoob so long?

In citing a breakdown of “trust and collaborative working” in her statement, Yaqoob makes it sound like she’s leaving a band rather than a national political party that she led until yesterday evening. She was no mere fellow traveller and it is right that she is held accountable for Respect’s noxious brand of politics.

The party is essentially a George Galloway ego-proxy, spreading a dangerous mix of bombast and conspiracy fantasy in order to hoover up support from British Muslims and the professionally politically dispossessed. The sight of Galloway pandering to the Muslim community’s cultural conservatism during the Bradford West by-election by extolling his personal disavowal of alcohol was a repulsive, comic sight.

Nevertheless, is Yaqoob is a potential asset for Labour in rebuilding support among those still angry about the Iraqi and Afghan wars – a sign, perhaps, that an eloquent young Muslim woman can progress in British politics? Or is she is symbol of everything Labour must avoid: gesture politicking and the sectarian headcount?

When Conservative or Liberal Democrat notables defect to Labour they provide validation that the party is winning over mainstream opinion. Salma Yaqoob offers no such endorsement. She is hardly a mainstream figure and chatter about her leaving Respect has been doing the rounds for a while. If she has simply used Galloway’s gaffe as a convenient excuse to put into train a move she has been eyeing-up for some time, then that shows little of the fastidious high principle of which she has made much.

We readily accept voters in the real world switch allegiances, but for the tribalists at the heart of British political parties it remains anathema. In the modern age perhaps we will just have to come to accept people leaving and switching parties more often is now realpolitik.

But we are perhaps in danger of getting ahead of ourselves. At the time of writing there is no confirmation she is set on joining Labour. However, like any other member of the public willing to cough-up, the party will welcome her into the ranks of its membership,

Yet Yaqoob’s defection would do nothing to advance Labour’s cause where it matters, in the centre of British politics. In that regard we should save the soft-soaping for one nation Tories and progressive Liberal Democrats.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut


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8 Responses to “Salma Yaqoob: so do we welcome her in or slam the door in her face?”

  1. paul barker says:

    Unless the scales have suddenly fallen from her eyes then she is still a communist, in which case there should be no place for her in a serious cetre-left party.
    That said, I was a communist once & spent 7 or 8 years in Labour as an entryist. When I first abandoned the far-left & labour it was also disgust at a revolting sexist & his local standing, it took a long time to work through the ideas.
    I hope Hudson & Yaqoob are both on the long road to liberal politics.

  2. Some good points here, Kevin, however, one thing in terms of the mechanics of a potential deal: you make the point that anyone can join the party, implying, in a sense, that this is out of Labour’s hands.

    However, I don’t believe that Yaqoob (or any other defector with a public profile) would ever make the jump without some kind of assurance they would be “helped” with a seat. This is very much in the hands of the Labour leadership, and they either decide positively to do it, or not. In other words, if Yaqoob decides to join, it will be because of positive overtures and assurances made by Labour, and not just because she sent in an application form.

  3. Robert says:

    I do not think that Salma Yaqoob has said or done anything that should prevent her from joining a social democratic party. She would attract people on the left but not say anything idiotic to put off people in the centre.

  4. Kevin says:

    Rob – you’re right: there’s usually a quid pro quo with defections. The defector brings cache that their new party is on the up and able to attract people across parties and they, in turn, get a leg up.

    We hold our noses when these are Tories and Lib Dems, but Respect is the lunatic fringe. There is no cache to bring. Respect operates in the sewer. Ergo, its leader is not an asset in the usual way.

    That is not to say Yaqoob has no talent, she does, but so, too, in his nutty way does Galloway. Its not enough to be presentable or a good speaker etc.

    She deserves to be help culpable for Respect’s disgraceful sectarian politics.

  5. Richard Kelham says:

    I’m not sure the Left can afford the sort of tribalism some Labour members affect. I support whichever party best reflects my own political views (which were well to the left of New Labour). Salma Yaqoob strikes me as politically sound, so welcome her.

  6. Mike Homfray says:

    I would welcome her.

  7. Ali says:

    Living in Sparkbrook, I can honestly tell you that Salma was a poor Councillor. She was a good talker but we elect people to do the best for us. She was rubbish, maybe one of the worst we have had. She was never to be found always away on her publicity stunts! I’m sorry we elect people to work for us NOT drama queens!
    If she does join Labour (god forbid), we don’t want her in Sparkbrook ward or Hall green constituency. If you like her, keep her up your end!!!!!

  8. Abu Fatimah says:

    I as a British Muslim would whole heratedly have voted labour, had Salma Yaqoob been the candidate. I am not interested in party politics, I am interested in voting for someone who will look after my rights in parliament. If someone is a zionist, or supports anti terror laws that are being used disprortionately against Muslims, in many cases who haven’t actually done anything, or supports the invasion or meddling in Muslim countries, or wishes to ban the niqab or hijab or another element of practise that some muslims feel are part of their faith, then I will not support that candidate whether they be Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem, or indeed Respect party.

    Many Muslims feel the same and indeed muslim votes are up for grabs, as Bradford has demonstrated. Areas with large muslim populations could certainly sway the election and the issues affecting muslims are largely the same, so if you wish to get a helping hand in winning the next general election then certainly salma yaqoob will help you dislodge conservatives from her constituency, as its currently a swing seat with a conservative MP. However, if you dont want Muslim votes then we will take them elsewhere. This is in the hands of the labour party to decide

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