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Salma Yaqoob says Respect may run candidate for mayor of Birmingham

Salma Yaqoob says Respect may run candidate for mayor of Birmingham

🕔03.Apr 2012

The Respect Party is considering its options following George Galloway’s stunning Bradford West by-election victory and may run a candidate for mayor of Birmingham.

Salma Yaqoob told the Chamberlain Files that the party would examine the manifestos of all mayoral hopefuls, and if none of them matched up to Respect’s principles a candidate might be put forward in Birmingham.

Ms Yaqoob, leader of the Respect Party and a former Birmingham city councillor, said: “Never say never in politics. There is a lot of excitement in Birmingham about what happened in Bradford.

“We will be very clear about the kind of vision we want, and we will see if any of the mayoral candidates match up to it. If a viable candidate does come forward we could consider endorsing them, but if that doesn’t happen we do have the option to stand.”

Ms Yaqoob said Bradford suffered with many of the same problems as Birmingham – high unemployment, low skills, poor housing and under-performing schools. Respect would be looking for a mayor capable of dealing with all of the issues.

However, she added: “The important thing at the moment is for Respect to take stock. We want to concentrate on delivering a yes vote in the May 3 mayoral referendum in Birmingham. People must get out and vote yes for a mayor if they want change.”

Ms Yaqoob’s intervention in Birmingham came as Labour attempted to write off Mr Galloway’s Bradford West victory as little more than a blip.

Complacency and poor organisation by local party officials was to blame for a swing of 36 per cent to the charismatic Mr Galloway rather than any huge shift of sentiment towards Respect’s agenda, according to Labour’s official line.

Perhaps it was a one-off event, and it would be wrong to draw too many conclusions from “Georgeous George’s” latest intervention in the British political scene.

However, it would be equally foolish to dismiss entirely the possibility that Respect’s Bradford resurgence could have an impact in Birmingham, another city with a large and sometimes politically unpredictable Muslim population.

Most commentators have assumed that Respect are likely to do well in a by-election in Hodge Hill that will have to be called if Labour MP Liam Byrne is selected as his party’s candidate for mayor of Birmingham. Certainly, Labour might face a difficult contest to hold a seat with a significant Muslim population which has been far from safe territory for the party in the past.

Potentially of far more importance, however, is the prospect of a Respect candidate running to become Birmingham’s first directly elected mayor – not necessarily because the party could win, although it might, but because of what a well organised campaign would do to Labour’s hopes.

It is difficult to judge how serious Ms Yaqoob is being when she says that Respect might endorse a suitable candidate for mayor from one of the other political parties. Labour would seem to be the obvious choice, but its relationship with Muslim members has not always run smoothly.

Birmingham Labour Party has lived in fear of losing the Muslim vote since the mid-1990s when one of Respect’s predecessors, the People’s Justice Party, began to take Labour-held council seats. Part of the PJP’s appeal was to demand self determination for the people of Kashmir, but the movement also gained support in Birmingham by campaigning on a wide range of issues including the need for single-sex schools and other issues which it was suggested Labour was not able to deliver.

In 2005, after losing all of its council seats and with its future in doubt, the PJP was handed a new lease of life after Labour was exposed as having organised widespread postal vote fraud across Birmingham. PJP candidates won two of the three by-election seats contested in Bordesley Green.

Labour’s reliance on Birmingham’s Muslim vote had already begun to look somewhat shaky, thanks to the involvement of British armed forces Iraq and Afghanistan. Huge swings in Asian-dominated inner city seats from Labour to the “anti-war” Liberal Democrat party helped to deliver control of the city council to a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition in 2004.

It would appear to be a racing certainty that Labour will regain control of the council at the elections on May 3, but it has taken eight years for the party’s traditional Muslim supporters to return in force.

Recent election results appear to confirm claims that Respect is a busted flush in Birmingham – a by-election held in Sparkbrook to choose a successor Ms Yaqoob resulted in a victory with a majority of more than 1,000 votes for white Labour candidate Victoria Quinn. The May 2011 council elections saw Labour pile up huge majorities in former Respect heartlands.

It should be noted that two of Labour’s three declared mayoral candidates are putting a lot of effort into shoring up the Muslim vote for the party’s selection  procedure, where members will decide who is to be the Birmingham candidate.

Former Erdington MP Sion Simon has been beavering away for two years with the help of Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood, who has been helping to persuade Muslim Labour members to back Mr Simon. Liam Byrne has only recently announced his candidacy, but he is being assisted by the well-connected Washwood Heath councillor Ansar Ali Khan.

Getting selected as Labour’s mayoral candidate is one thing, and will boil down to how many of the 3,800-odd Birmingham party members can be bothered to vote when selection papers are delivered on May 25. Once selected, however, the Labour hopeful will be at the mercy of as many of the 720,000 Birmingham electors who decide to vote in the November 15 mayoral election, assuming that a referendum on May 3 delivers a yes vote.

The implications of a strong candidate for mayor from a non-mainstream party coming through at the last minute have been well documented. If Respect is serious about the possibility of standing, and has the organisational ability to run a decent campaign, Labour will have every right to be worried because the final result is bound to be far, far less certain.

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