Despite the media focus on the coronavirus outbreak, the Labour Party has managed to win some bad headlines by suspending Trevor Phillips, the veteran anti-racism campaigner, over allegations of Islamophobia.
Phillips, the first chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), has been accused of conduct prejudicial or grossly detrimental to the party. Jennie Formby, Labour’s general secretary, has suspended him “as a matter of urgency”, though an 11-page letter to him draws on statements dating back some years.
The irony is that Phillips, a Labour supporter for more than 30 years, introduced “Islamophobia” to the lexicon and lobbied successfully for the first law giving protection to Muslims from incitement to racial hatred in 2006.
Phillips, a broadcaster, has always been an outspoken figure. Some of his language seems designed to provoke a reaction. Labour wants to know why he said Enoch Powell’s infamous 1968 “rivers of blood” speech was “lauded as an example of the use of political rhetoric” (though he added that it ended Powell’s career).
Challenged on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning over his 2016 claim that UK Muslims were “becoming a nation within a nation”, Phillips argued that his point was that “we cannot continue simply to say that differences won’t matter”. Another allegation is over Phillips’ call to abandon “the milk-and-water multiculturalism still so beloved of many, and adopting a far more muscular approach to integration”.