Trevor Phillips

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This article is about the former chairman and television presenter. For the former English professional footballer, see Trevor Phillips (footballer). For the Grand Theft Auto V character, see Trevor Philips.
Trevor Phillips
Flickr - boellstiftung - Trevor Phillips.jpg
Member of the London Assembly
for the Labour Party (London-wide)
In office
4 May 2000 – February 2003
Preceded by New constituency
Succeeded by Diana Johnson
Personal details
Born (1953-12-31) 31 December 1953 (age 60)
Wood Green, London
Nationality British
Political party Labour
Alma mater Imperial College London

Trevor Phillips, OBE (born 31 December 1953, London), is a former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and a former television executive and presenter. He became head of the Commission for Racial Equality in 2003, and on its abolition in 2006 was appointed full-time chair of its successor, the EHRC (initially called the Commission for Equality and Human Rights), which had a broader remit of combating discrimination and promoting equality across other grounds (age, disability, gender, race, religion and belief, sexual orientation and gender reassignment).[1] The EHRC also had the role of promoting and defending human rights, and secured recognition as the national human rights institution for Great Britain (alongside separate commissions in Northern Ireland and Scotland). Phillips' tenure as EHRC chair (which at his request became a part-time position in 2009) has at times been controversial.

Early life[edit]

Phillips was born in London, and lived in Wood Green, attending Wood Green Grammar School (became Wood Green Comprehensive in 1967) on White Hart Lane, but took his A-levels at Queen's College in Georgetown, Guyana. He returned to London to study for a BSc in Chemistry at Imperial College London - saying his interest in the subject was prompted by living next to a gasometer as a child.

Political activity[edit]

As a student at Imperial he became president of its students' union. In 1978 he was elected president of the National Union of Students as a candidate for the Broad Left.

Phillips was active in the voluntary sector, serving as chair of the Runnymede Trust, a think-tank promoting ethnic equality, from 1993 to 1998, and as a commissioner for a number of other charities. He also served as chair of the London Arts Board. His long-standing friendship with Peter Mandelson (who worked with Phillips at LWT and was best man at his wedding to Asha Bhownagary) brought him close to the New Labour project and he became friends with Tony Blair. Phillips joined the Labour Party in London in 1996. He was awarded an OBE in 1999 for services to broadcasting. Later in 1999, Phillips ran to be Labour's candidate for Mayor of London.

Phillips was initially reported to be Tony Blair's preferred choice for the role, and when Blair called for the party to swiftly unite behind one candidate, Ken Livingstone, a left-winger and favourite to win the nomination, offered to form a joint ticket with Phillips as his running mate. Phillips described Livingstone's offer as "patronising" in a response that was seen as an accusation of racism, though Phillips later denied this.[2] Following this and other controversies, including his decision to send his children to a private school, Phillips withdrew from the race a few months later and was not on the final shortlist of candidates. Instead, he accepted an offer to be running mate to Frank Dobson.

Although Dobson won the nomination, his candidature was harmed by the perception that the contest was "fixed" by the use of an electoral college.[3] Livingstone ran as an independent and won. The Labour Party designated Phillips as a member of the London Assembly on 4 May 2000 as one of its 'top-up' candidates. Phillips served as chair of the Assembly until February 2003, before resigning his seat to take up his appointment at the Commission for Racial Equality.

Multiculturalism: disagreements with Ken Livingstone[edit]

Phillips and Livingstone had a frosty relationship throughout Phillips' time on the London Assembly, and Phillips' opposition to multiculturalism saw them clash time and again during his tenure at the CRE. In a Times interview in April 2004, Phillips called for the government to reject its support for multiculturalism, claiming it was out of date, and legitimised "separateness" between communities and instead should "assert a core of Britishness".[4]

In 2006, Livingstone accused Phillips of "pandering to the right" so much that he "would soon join the BNP".[5] Phillips himself replied that his views had been "well documented" and "well supported". Phillips has made speeches stating that "it was right to ask hard questions about multicultural Britain". Although he apologised for his misuse of statistics on levels of segregation he welcomed the focus on integration of different communities after the launch of A Commission for Integration and Cohesion.[6]

After the 2005 riots in France, Phillips warned that "inequality, race and powerlessness" can be "incendiary". He was invited to advise the French government and in September 2007 was awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.[7]

Chair of the EHRC[edit]

Phillips' tenure as EHRC chair was dogged by controversies and internal dissent. Under his leadership six of the body's commissioners departed after expressing concerns about his leadership and probity and others were reported to be considering their position.[8][9]

Phillips has argued for school selection to be amended to prevent segregation in British schools,[clarification needed][citation needed] and controversially warned that Britain's current approach to multiculturalism could cause Britain to "sleepwalk towards segregation".[10]

Views on Islam and free speech[edit]

Trevor Phillips has spoken on the need for free speech to "allow people to offend each other."[11] These comments came after the protests against the Danish cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad which sparked protests in the Muslim world. He stated in an ITV interview: "One point of Britishness is that people can say what they like about the way we should live, however absurd, however unpopular it is." While supporting free speech, Phillips has spoken out against providing the far right with a platform. Discussing the Oxford Union's invitation to BNP leader Nick Griffin and Holocaust denier David Irving, he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "As a former president of the National Union of Students, I'm ashamed that this has happened. This is not a question of freedom of speech, this is a juvenile provocation. What I would say to students at Oxford is: You're supposed to be brilliant. Put your brains back in your head. People fought and died for freedom of expression and freedom of speech. They didn't fight and die for it so it could be used as a sort of silly parlour game. This is just a piece of silly pranksterism and the issues are too serious to be left to that." Griffin has since hit back at Phillips by declaring him a "black racist" in an interview given to Channel 4.[12]

Opposition to 42-day detention[edit]

In early June 2008 Phillips as EHRC head voiced that he "remain[ed] unpersuaded that the government has yet provided compelling evidence for what our legal advice shows would be an effective suspension of some human rights"[13] Phillips was responding to the growing uproar surrounding proposals to amend counter-terrorism legislation to permit 42 days' detention without charge. He raised the possibility of the EHRC legally testing the legislation by judicial review. In the event, the Brown government maintained the limit on detention without charge at 28 days (although in practice a 14-day limit was observed). Following the installation of a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government the limit was in January 2011 allowed to revert to 14 days.

Comparisons between Britain and the United States[edit]

In an article published in 2003,[14] Phillips stated "from Rome, through Constantinople to Venice and London, our (European) nations have a history of peacefully absorbing huge, diverse movements of people, driven by war, famine and persecution; and there is no history of long-term ethnic segregation of the kind one can see in any US city."

In a March 2008 article for Prospect magazine, Phillips was cool on Barack Obama as a potential Presidential candidate, and speculated that if he did become President of America it might "postpone the arrival of a post-racial America".[15]

Following Obama's win, in a radio interview for BBC Radio 4 on November 8, 2008, Trevor Phillips said that he believed it would be impossible for a black candidate in the United Kingdom to rise to the top in politics because of institutional racism within the Labour Party. He said;

If Barack Obama had lived here I would be very surprised if even somebody as brilliant as him would have been able to break through the institutional stranglehold that there is on power within the Labour party.[16]

The comments gained support and criticism from members of ethnic communities in the UK.[17] An article on Phillips in The Independent pointed out the demographic differences between the United Kingdom and the United States of America making a comparison untenable. In the United States people of non-European ancestry constitute about one third of the population, whereas in the United Kingdom people of non-white ancestry make up only 8% of the population.[18]

Broadcasting and writing[edit]

Phillips worked initially as a researcher for London Weekend Television (LWT), before being promoted to head of current affairs in 1992, remaining in the post until 1994. He produced and presented The London Programme for LWT and has worked on projects for the BBC. With his brother, the crime writer Mike Phillips, he wrote Windrush: The Irresistible Rise of Multi-racial Britain (1998, HarperCollins, ISBN 0-00-255909-9).

Accusations of conflict of interest[edit]

In 2008 it was revealed through the British tabloid press that a private company co founded by Phillips and in which he owns 70% of the shares,[19] the Equate Organisation had been employed by Channel Four following the race row involving Shilpa Shetty and Jade Goody during the May 2007 series of Celebrity Big Brother. The undisclosed sum paid by Channel 4 to Phillips and the Commission's assertion that "Trevor has gone through all the correct processes of declaring his interests, so there is no conflict"[20] provoked widespread criticism in the British media.

In 2010 Phillips was investigated regarding alleged attempts to influence a committee writing a report on him. He was cleared of contempt of Parliament but was told his behaviour was "inappropriate and ill-advised".[21]

Personal life[edit]

Phillips was married to Asha Bhownagary, a child psychologist, for 28 years,[22] and they have two daughters. They separated in 2008.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Vikram Dodd, "Ministers pick Phillips to lead new human rights and equalities body", The Guardian, 4 September 2006.
  2. ^ Phillips accuses Livingstone of racism, BBC News, 16 June 1999; Minnette Marrin, Playing the race card, The Sunday Telegraph, 20 June 1999.
  3. ^ Robert Shrimsley, "How Blair put the block on Red Ken", The Daily Telegraph, 21 February 2000
  4. ^ Tom Baldwin and Gabriel Rozenberg, "Britain 'must scrap multiculturalism'", The Times, 3 April 2004.
  5. ^ Mayor's BNP outburst at Phillips BBC News
  6. ^ UK race chief in ghetto apology BBC News.
  7. ^ French Embassy in London: Mr Trevor Phillips made Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur.
  8. ^ Sam Jones and Afua Hirsch, "Rebels turn on Trevor Phillips' leadership of rights body", The Guardian, 21 July 2009
  9. ^ Sam Jones and James Sturcke, "New resignation hits Equality and Human Rights Commission", The Guardian, 25 July 2009.
  10. ^ Dominic Casciani, So who's right over segregation? BBC News.
  11. ^ Muslims 'must accept' free speech BBC News
  12. ^ Williams, Rachel (26 November 2007). "'Awful, abhorrent' - but Oxford insists the debate must go on". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 26 May 2010. 
  13. ^ Kirkup, James; Porter, Andrew (10 June 2008). "MI5 chief speaks out over terror law row". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 26 May 2010. 
  14. ^ Trevor Phillips, "More Than Skin Deep", The Guardian, 18 August 2003; also reproduced on the Common Dreams website.
  15. ^ Trevor Phillips, "Healing prosponed", Prospect, March 2008.
  16. ^ Haroon Siddique "Racism would block British Barack Obama, says Trevor Phillips", The Guardian, 8 November 2008.
  17. ^ Rachel Sylvester, "Labour ‘racism’ would block British Obama, says Trevor Phillips", The Times, 8 November 2008.
  18. ^ Paul Vallely and Kevin Rawlinson, "Fear and loathing at equality central", The Independent, 8 July 2009.
  19. ^ Fletcher, Ewan; Johnson, Angella; Petre, Jonathan (8 June 2008). "Channel 4 paid race chief Trevor Phillips to deal with fallout of Big Brother's Shilpa row". Daily Mail (London). 
  20. ^ Race equality chief Trevor Phillips in C4 Big Brother fee row - mirror.co.uk
  21. ^ "Phillips 'not guilty of contempt'". BBC News. 7 July 2010. 
  22. ^ "Trevor Phillips: role model?". The Independent. 2 December 2006. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Sue Slipman
President of the National Union of Students
1978-80
Succeeded by
David Aaronovitch