Galloway rape comments tears Respect party apart

George Galloway's ill-advised comments on the Julian Assange extradition row seem to have torn his party apart, with leader Salma Yaqoob stepping down.

The Birmingham councillor cited a breakdown in "trust and collaborative working" for her departure, but most observers concluded the decision was a direct result of Galloway's comments three weeks ago, which prompted her to publicly attack her most famous member.

Galloway said the allegations against Assange did not constitute rape "as most people understand it" but were simply "bad sexual etiquette". He then insisted "not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion".

Yaqoob responded by describing Galloway's views as "deeply disappointing and wrong".

Last night she wrote on the Respect party website: "It is with deep regret that I have decided to resign from Respect.

"The last few weeks have been extremely difficult for everyone in the party. I feel necessary relations of trust and collaborative working have unfortunately broken down.

"I have no wish to prolong those difficulties, and indeed hope that they may now be drawn to a close."

She added: "I remain committed to the principles and values that led me to help found Respect. The policies we have fought for need to be voiced as loud as ever in opposition to a political establishment that remains out of touch with working people.

"I would like to thank everyone in the party for their support over the years; I wish everyone the very best for the future and in those common struggles for peace, justice and equality that I am sure we will all continue to be involved in."

Respect national secretary Chris Chilvers wrote: "While we are obviously very sorry that Salma has decided to leave Respect, we would like to thank her for the great contribution she has made to Respect over the last decade.

"We look forward to working with Salma in the future in pursuit of our shared values and objectives."

Where the colourful psychotherapist goes from here is in difficult to predict. Yaqoob is probably too far to the left for a position with Labour, where many would mistrust her because of her combative rhetoric during her time in Respect. The councillor has described herself as a "friend" of the party, however.

The move also robs Respect of a vital bridge between its two main sets of supporters, anti-war Muslims and far leftists. Yaqoob, who wore a hijab and had impeccable left-wing credentials, was an inclusive and telegenic presence at the top of the party. Without her, it will be seen as almost entirely a vehicle of Galloway, with all the controversy that entails.