Labour has defended its shortlist for the West Midlands metro mayor after it was embroiled in a homophobia row.
Members of the party’s LGBT group demanded the removal of the candidate Salma Yaqoob, the former leader of the Respect party, over alleged homophobic comments.
A group – including seven MPs and a former party general secretary – wrote to Labour’s regional director calling for Yaqoob to be struck from the list of candidates to fight the mayoral election next year.
In the letter to the regional director, Fadel Takrouri, they raised concerns about Yaqoob’s past record on gay rights. The letter stated the former Birmingham councillor “has form when it comes to homophobia and sharing a platform with those who propagate it”.
Labour politicians including Wes Streeting, Chris Bryant and Angela Eagle expressed “dismay” at Yaqoob’s inclusion on the list, which also includes the former chief secretary to the treasury Liam Byrne and the local councillor Peter Lowe, a unions’ favourite.
The letter accused Yaqoob of homophobia, including allegedly referring to LGBT as being a “choice of lifestyle.”
It also raised concerns about her decision to run against Labour’s Naz Shah in 2017 in Bradford West, a seat formerly held by George Galloway for Respect. Rosie Duffield said that female Labour MPs had also written to the party general secretary, Jennie Formby.
The women’s parliamentary Labour party wrote: “Ms Yaqoob’s campaign against Naz in the last general election should render her ineligible to hold party membership … it is, among other things, a disservice to her that the party might allow a woman who bullied and personally targeted her to represent us in an election.”
Shah, the shadow minister for women and equalities, is reported to be considering launching a legal action against Labour over the selection.
ITV News reported the legal challenge would centre on the length of time candidates normally have to be Labour members before being selected as candidates. Shah has previously accused Yaqoob of being unfit for office, claiming she ran a “despicable” general election campaign against her in Bradford West two years ago.
However, a Labour source told the Guardian there did not appear to be any grounds for a legal challenge. They said Yaqoob’s application to rejoin the party was supported by her constituency Labour party and it went through the proper processes.
The source said the rule book states the national executive committee (NEC) and its sub-committees have the power to waive qualifications for candidacy, including on the length of membership.
In addition to this they said, last year the NEC fleshed out the specific procedures for the waiving of length of membership requirement and other criteria concerning standing for selection. They said the decision on Yaqoob was taken in line with these procedures.
The source said: “Labour’s rule book is clear that the NEC has the power to allow individuals who have not been members for 12 months to stand for selection.
“This often happens in selections when there are no women or BAME candidates. Other than Salma Yaqoob, no women or BAME members put themselves forward for the West Midlands mayoral race.
“During the New Labour years, several Conservative MPs were allowed to defect to Labour, despite having stood against the party at the previous election.”
In relation to LGBT rights, the source added, Yaqoob had submitted a letter to the party in response to the allegations, in which she says “she was referring to faith as a lifestyle choice, not sexuality, and that she supports LGBT+ education in schools.”
In a lengthy statement Yaqoob, who is backed by the left-leaning Momentum movement, denied all allegations which she described as either “false” or “seriously misleading”. She has previously called for a truce with Shah admitting her decision to stand against her was “a misjudgment”.
She said: “A series of allegations have been made about me that are either false or seriously misleading and I am aware these have been sent to the party.
“I want to be clear that I stand in full solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community and I am absolutely committed to confronting all forms of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in our society.”