Page last updated at 15:21 GMT, Thursday, 8 April 2010 16:21 UK

Profile: Respect Party leader Salma Yaqoob

Salma Yaqoob
Ms Yaqoob became politically active after 11 September 2001

Salma Yaqoob is leader of the anti-war Respect party and has been a councillor in Birmingham since 2006.

She has witnessed a turbulent split in her party, which nonetheless still boasts the affiliation of MP George Galloway.

The mother of three young children has become a familiar figure in the press and on TV commenting on issues surrounding multiculturalism and speaking out against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Described by the Birmingham Post as a "doughty fighter for Birmingham inner city communities", she is preparing to fight her first general election as leader.

'Traditional conservatism'

Ms Yaqoob's parents emigrated to the UK from Pakistan in the 1960s, and her father worked in a mill before joining the Royal Mail.

Born in 1971, at university she studied biochemistry and psychology and she met her husband, Aqil, at the age of 24.

We united people around a progressive message of anti-racism and social justice
Salma Yaqoob

Working part-time as a psychotherapist, she become politically active two weeks after the attacks on New York on 11 September 2001, when a man spat at her in the street.

She became active in the anti-war movement and joined Respect. She would later postpone a PhD so she could devote more time to her political career and her extended family.

In the 2005 general election she stood for Respect in Birmingham Sparkbrook & Small Heath, earning 10,498 votes and beating the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives to second place.

A year later she won a seat on Birmingham City Council and received the Asian Jewel Award for Public Service Excellence. Writing in the Guardian, she said her election victory "challenged the traditional conservatism that denies leading public positions to women, and challenged the old order, which treats our communities as silent voting fodder".

She added: "And it was only possible because we united people around a progressive message of anti-racism and social justice."

Between 2004 and 2007 Respect enjoyed a degree of success, picking up councillors in local elections in Newham and Tower Hamlets as well as Birmingham.

In 2005 the party was bolstered by the election of Mr Galloway as MP for the east London seat of Bethnal Green and Bow.

But it was - in the best tradition of left-wing parties - to suffer a damaging split.

One faction - centred around the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) - said it wanted to stay true to Respect's left-wing roots. The other half - to which Ms Yaqoob and Mr Galloway stayed loyal - said it did not want to see the party to be controlled so much by the demands of the SWP.

The SWP faction left, taking with it many of the party's activists.

Ms Yaqoob leads the surviving Respect party, which was left with six councillors on Tower Hamlets council, three councillors in the London Borough of Newham and three councillors on Birmingham City Council.

As well as her work with the anti-war movement, she is an active pro-Palestinian campaigner. In 2009 she called on Birmingham Council to boycott Israeli goods in response to its actions in Gaza.

She has spoken out against a proposal by the UK Independence Party to ban the burka, arguing that there was a need to protect "freedom of speech, freedom of worship".

Ms Yaqoob said she had received death threats after speaking out against a demonstration by the English Defence League in Birmingham.



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