Trevor Phillips

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Trevor Phillips

Flickr - boellstiftung - Trevor Phillips.jpg
Member of the London Assembly
as the 6th Additional Member
In office
4 May 2000 – February 2003
Preceded byNew constituency
Succeeded byDee Doocey
Personal details
Mark Trevor Phillips

(1953-12-31) 31 December 1953 (age 67)
Islington, London, England
Political partyLabour (suspended)
Alma materImperial College London

Mark Trevor Phillips OBE ARCS FIC (born 31 December 1953) is a British writer, broadcaster and former politician. In March 2015, Phillips was appointed as the President of the Partnership Council of the John Lewis Partnership for a three-year term. His is the first external appointment since 1928.[1]

Phillips is deputy chairman of the board of the National Equality Standard, and other business appointments include chairman of Green Park Diversity Analytics, director of WebberPhillips, a data analytics provider;[2] and director of Pepper Productions, an independent television production company. He is a member of the board of the Barbican Arts Centre and the Council of Aldeburgh Music; and a trustee of the Social Mobility Foundation, among other charities.

Phillips is a former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and a former television presenter and executive.

Phillips became head of the Commission for Racial Equality in 2003, and on its abolition in 2006 was appointed full-time chairman 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).[3] The EHRC also had the role of promoting and defending human rights, and secured recognition as the national human rights institution for England and Wales (alongside separate commissions in Northern Ireland and Scotland). Phillips' tenure as EHRC chairman (which at his request became a part-time position in 2009) was at times controversial.

Early life[edit]

Mark Trevor Phillips was born in Islington, London, the youngest of ten children.[4] His parents emigrated from then British Guiana in 1950. He spent his childhood partly in British Guiana, and partly in Wood Green, north London; he attended Wood Green County 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.

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 and Channel 4. 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). He has won three Royal Television Society Awards, including Documentary Series of the Year for Windrush in 1999. He is a Vice President of the RTS.

In March 2015, Channel 4 aired Things We Won't Say About Race (That Are True), a feature-length documentary written and presented by Phillips and co-produced by Pepper Productions and Outline Productions.[5] Philips was invited to analyse and interpret the survey[clarification needed] for the documentary What British Muslims Really Think aired April 2016, which followed similar themes to Things We Won't Say About Race (That Are True) relating to exploring racial truths through statistics.[6]

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 chairman 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 chairman of the London Arts Board. His long-standing friendship with Peter Mandelson (who worked with Phillips at LWT and was best man at his first wedding) brought him close to the New Labour project and he became friendly with Tony Blair. Phillips joined the Labour Party in London in 1996. He was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 1999 New Year Honours list for services to broadcast journalism.[7] Later in 1999, Phillips ran to be Labour's candidate for Mayor of London.

Phillips was initially reported to be 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.[8] 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.[9] 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 chairman of the Assembly until February 2003, before resigning his seat to take up his appointment at the Commission for Racial Equality.

In March 2020, Phillips was suspended from Labour following allegations of Islamophobia. Following the announcement, Phillips defended his comments about British Muslims on BBC Radio 4's Today programme.[10] The interview was mentioned in the analysis by former Tory party chair, Sayeeda Warsi. Critics of the move include a former MP familiar with similar accusations, Stephanie Phillips (no relation), published in her current newspaper, as well as an opinion piece at The New Arab.[citation needed]

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".[11]

In 2006, Livingstone accused Phillips of "pandering to the right" so much that he "would soon join the BNP".[12] 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 presentation of research by the Australian academic Michael Poulsen of statistics on levels of segregation, which had led to some controversy, he welcomed the focus on integration of different communities after the launch of A Commission for Integration and Cohesion.[13] Phillips has subsequently cited recent work by, amongst others, Professor Eric Kaufmann of Birkbeck College, London showing that white and non-white segregation in London and Birmingham has increased during the census period to 2011.[14]

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.[15]

Phillips wrote in May 2016: "Rome may not yet be in flames, but I think I can smell the smouldering whilst we hum to the music of liberal self-delusion" by ignoring the effects of mass immigration to the United Kingdom, explicitly comparing his warning to Enoch Powell's 1968 Rivers of Blood speech.[16]

Chairman of the EHRC[edit]

Phillips' tenure as EHRC chairman was dogged by controversies and internal dissent. Under his leadership it was reported that six of the body's commissioners departed after expressing concerns about his leadership and probity and others were reported to be considering their position.[17][18]

In 2010 Phillips was investigated regarding alleged attempts to influence a committee (the Joint Committee on Human Rights) writing a report on him. He would have been the first non-politician in over half a century to be convicted of this offence, but the Lords Committee found that the allegations were "subjective, and that no firm factual evidence is presented in their support; nor are they borne out by the submissions by individual members of the JCHR."[19] He was cleared of contempt of Parliament and the House of Lords recommended that new and clearer guidance about the conduct of witnesses to Select Committees be issued.[20] However, he was told his behaviour was "inappropriate and ill-advised".[21]

Phillips completed his second term of office in September 2012, which, together with his term at the CRE made him the longest serving leader of any UK equality commission.[citation needed]

In 2006 Phillips has warned that Britain's current approach to multiculturalism could cause Britain to "sleepwalk towards segregation".[22] He expanded on these views in 2016 a publication by Civitas entitled Race and Faith: the Deafening Silence, in which he said that "squeamishness about addressing diversity and its discontents risks allowing our country to sleepwalk to a catastrophe that will set community against community, endorse sexist aggression, suppress freedom of expression, reverse hard-won civil liberties, and undermine the liberal democracy that has served this country so well for so long."[23]

Views on free speech[edit]

Phillips has spoken on the need for free speech to "allow people to offend each other." These comments came after the protests against the Danish cartoons satirising the Islamic 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."[24]

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.[25]

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".[26] 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,[27] 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 it might "postpone the arrival of a post-racial America".[28] Following Obama's election, in an interview for The Times on 8 November 2008,[29] 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, saying:

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.[30]

The comments gained support and criticism from members of ethnic communities in the UK.[31]

Personal life[edit]

Phillips married Asha Bhownagary, a Parsi child psychotherapist, in 1981 and they have two daughters.[32]


  1. ^ John Lewis PLC and Tacit Knowledge. "John Lewis Partnership – Appointment of Partnership Council President" (Press release).
  2. ^ Siddique, Haroon (27 July 2020). "Met use software which can be deployed to see if ethnic groups 'specialise' in areas of crime". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 July 2020.
  3. ^ Dodd, Vikram (4 September 2006). "Ministers pick Phillips to lead new human rights and equalities body", The Guardian. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  4. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 12 April 2016.
  5. ^ Potter & Web. "Things We Won't Say About Race – That Are True". Outline Productions.
  6. ^ "C4 survey and documentary reveals what British muslims really think". Channel 4.
  7. ^ "No. 55354". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 1998. p. 12.
  8. ^ Phillips accuses Livingstone of racism, BBC News, 16 June 1999; Minnette Marrin, Playing the race card Archived 8 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine, [[The Sunday Telegraph], 20 June 1999.
  9. ^ Robert Shrimsley, "How Blair put the block on Red Ken", The Daily Telegraph, 21 February 2000
  10. ^ Walker, Peter; Gelder, Sam (9 March 2020). "Trevor Phillips dismayed at Labour suspension over Muslim comments". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 9 March 2020.
  11. ^ Baldwin, Tom; Rozenberg, Gabriel. "Britain 'must scrap multiculturalism'". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 26 April 2021.
  12. ^ Mayor's BNP outburst at Phillips BBC News
  13. ^ UK race chief in ghetto apology BBC News.
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 24 March 2015. Retrieved 16 May 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ French Embassy in London: Mr Trevor Phillips made Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. Archived 20 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Bingham, John (10 May 2016). "Britain 'sleepwalking to catastrophe' over race: Trevor Phillips". The Daily Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 16 June 2020.
  17. ^ Sam Jones and Afua Hirsch, "Rebels turn on Trevor Phillips' leadership of rights body", The Guardian, 21 July 2009
  18. ^ Sam Jones and James Sturcke, "New resignation hits Equality and Human Rights Commission", The Guardian, 25 July 2009.
  19. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 July 2015. Retrieved 17 May 2015.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  20. ^ "Mr Trevor Phillips: allegation of contempt first report of session 2010–11".
  21. ^ "Phillips 'not guilty of contempt'". BBC News. 7 July 2010.
  22. ^ Dominic Casciani, So who's right over segregation? BBC News.
  23. ^ "Race and Faith: The Deafening Silence". Civitas: Institute for the Study of Civil Society. 10 May 2016. Retrieved 8 May 2018.
  24. ^ "Muslims 'must accept' free speech". BBC News. 26 February 2006.
  25. ^ Williams, Rachel (26 November 2007). "'Awful, abhorrent' – but Oxford insists the debate must go on". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 May 2010.
  26. ^ Kirkup, James; Porter, Andrew (10 June 2008). "MI5 chief speaks out over terror law row". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 26 May 2010.
  27. ^ Trevor Phillips, "More Than Skin Deep", The Guardian, 18 August 2003; also reproduced on the Common Dreams Archived 21 November 2006 at the Wayback Machine website.
  28. ^ Trevor Phillips, "Healing postponed", Prospect, 28 March 2008.
  29. ^ "Bias 'would hamper British Obama'". BBC News. 8 November 2008. Retrieved 29 April 2020.
  30. ^ Siddique, Haroon (8 November 2008). "Racism would block British Barack Obama, says Trevor Phillips". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077.
  31. ^ Sylvester, Rachel (8 November 2008). "Labour 'racism' would block British Obama, says Trevor Phillips". The Times.
  32. ^ Vallely, Paul (2 December 2006). "Trevor Phillips: role model?". The Independent. Retrieved 29 April 2020.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

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