It’s no secret that parliament is embroiled in a pretty serious row about Brexit (and has been for the past three-and-a-half years).
But as the Brexit drama continues to bubble away in Westminster, there’s another clash going on within the Labour Party that you might not have heard about – and it involves the race for the next West Midlands metro mayor.
The person at the centre of the controversy? Former Respect Party leader Salma Yaqoob, who is now running to be Labour’s candidate for mayor.
Yaqoob stood as a Respect candidate in Birmingham in the 2005 and 2010 general elections, before resigning from the party – which won a seat for George Galloway in the Commons – in 2012.
She then stood as an independent candidate against Labour MP Naz Shah in Bradford West in 2017.
Now, Shah – Labour’s minister for women and equalities – is leading calls against Yaqoob becoming the party’s candidate in the race for mayor.
In a series of tweets on Tuesday night, Shah described how Yaqoob’s campaign to unseat her in 2017 left her “feeling suicidal”.
“I absolutely feel that her whole rhetoric of her campaign was about inciting hatred towards me,” Shah said.
She has accused Yaqoob of “honour abuse”, of failing to challenge men who slut-shamed Shah at her campaign events and of suggesting voters should back her at the polls because wore a hijab and Shah didn’t.
“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.”
Shah added: “Labour values are very, very much about fairness and equality and justice.”
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.
They also complained about Labour waiving rules about how long someone must be a Labour member before they can stand as a candidate for Yaqoob.
“We believe the Labour Party made a terrible mistake when Salma Yaqoob was given her membership card,” the group wrote.
The Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party also wrote to Jennie Formby, Labour’s general secretary, about Yaqoob, saying her campaign against Shah should “render her ineligible to hold party membership”.
“It is, among other things, a disservice to her [Shah] that this party might allow a woman who bullied and personally targeted her to represent us in an election,” the letter read.
On Monday, Yaqoob posted a message on Twitter responding to claims of homophobia against her.
“A series of allegations have been made against me that are either false or seriously misleading,” she wrote. “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.”
Yaqoob added: “I’m proud to have the support of many LGBTQ+ Labour members, and if I’m elected as the West Midlands’ first woman of colour mayor I will work hard to represent and bring together all communities that face discrimination.”
Meanwhile, the aspiring mayoral candidate has written her own letter to Formby, accusing Shah of a “deliberate campaign of vilification”.
Yaqoob has also accused the Labour MP of exploiting “clan politics” while claiming to challenge it, usin her platform as a shadow minister to attack her and attempting to derail the selection process.
Speaking to HuffPost UK about the letter, Yaqoob said: “My aim was to positively reach out to Naz in the spirit of peace and reconciliation, which I’ve been doing and committed to repeatedly since and during the 2017 campaign and now; as I don’t wish to engage in toxic political games but build a united Labour against our real enemy, the Tories.
“However, sharing the facts against these allegations is needed to clarify untruthful allegations so we can move forward together and united.”
HuffPost UK has contacted Shah for a response to Yaqoob’s letter.
Yaqoob has received support from campaigner Owen Jones, who called her a “proud ally of LGBTQ people”, and shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon.
Tweeting a photo of the two of them at at a Stand Up To Racism conference on Saturday, the Labour frontbencher said: “Salma’s a courageous opponent of racism and war, who inspires people to fight for a better society based on justice, equality and socialism.”
Labour’s Rosie Duffield called Burgon’s tweet “extremely disappointing”, while Redcar MP Anna Turley responded: “Seriously?!”
In a statement about the ongoing row, a Labour source said the party’s rule book was “clear” that its national executive committee had the power to allow individuals who had not been Labour members for 12 months to stand for selection.
“This often happens in selections when there are no women or Bame candidates,” they said.
“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.”