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Fri, 7 August 2020

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Labour leadership contenders urged to intervene over 'Orwellian' suspension of Trevor Phillips

Labour leadership contenders urged to intervene over 'Orwellian' suspension of Trevor Phillips
4 min read

The three contenders for the Labour leadership have been urged to condemn the suspension of Trevor Phillips from the party over accusations of Islamophobia.


Former Labour MP Lord Mann, who now serves as the Government's anti-semitism tsar, branded the move to halt Mr Phillips' membership of the party "Orwellian" as he called on Sir Keir Starmer, Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey to step in.

Mr Phillips, the former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), was told last month that he had been handed an administrative suspension over a string of public statements on Islam.

They include claims by Mr Phillips that the "integration of Muslims will probably be the hardest task we’ve ever faced"; criticism of a group of Muslim scholars for not wearing Remembrance Day poppies; and a warning of the "collision between majority norms and the behaviours of some Muslim groups".

A letter from Labour also flags statements it says could undermine "the Party's ability to campaign against racism".

But Mr Phillips has said he believes the move was linked to his past association with the EHRC, which is investigating claims of Labour anti-semitism, and his previous criticism of the party leadership.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Mr Phillips said his case was a "test for the kind of party these candidates want to lead" as the three Labour hopefuls battle it out to replace Jeremy Corbyn.

All three campaigns have so far declined to comment publicly on the row.

But Lord Mann told The Times: "It is the role of elected leaders to make the big calls, and an allegation of this kind against one of your longserving members is of that order

"You either welcome the investigation or you defend your local member."

And he said of the suspension: "There’s only one word to describe this action - it’s Orwellian."

'LUDICROUS'

Mr Phillips has also won the support of two former Labour home secretaries, Charles Clarke and David Blunkett.

Mr Clarke said: "He is a long-term campaigner against religious and racial discrimination and he should be an absolutely welcome member of our party," he added.

Meanwhile Lord Blunkett, who appointed Mr Phillips to the EHRC, told The Times: "He would not have obtained or retained this post had I believed that he could be accused of Islamophobia."

But the former EHRC head's comments have drawn fire from the Muslim Council of Britain, which represents hundreds of Muslim organisations in Britain.

An MCB spokesperson said: "Mr Phillips has made incendiary statements about Muslims that would be unacceptable for any other minority. Many of these sweeping generalisations are unfounded, wildly exaggerated and are familiar tropes taken up by the far right."

They added: "Mr Phillips would have us believe that he is a martyr for free speech and tolerance. But the fact remains that the deployment of these sweeping generalisations and tropes would not be acceptable for any other community. 

"We are not commenting on the internal processes of the Labour Party, its choices or prioritisation of this case versus others. We expect the Party to follow appropriate process and investigate its members over all allegations of Islamophobia, and all other types of racism."

WARSI: PHILLIPS 'FLAWED'

Baroness Warsi, who has been a frequent critic of her own party's handling of claims of anti-Muslim abuse, said Mr Phillips' views on Islam had been "been flawed for many years".

Writing in The Guardian, she said: "Anti-racism campaigners have over the years become increasingly bemused at his pronouncements, given he was once chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

"But one thing is clear: Phillips cannot treat Muslims as a homogenised group when it suits him, then later deny they are racialised. Whatever the outcome of Labour’s inquiry into his Islamophobia, there’s no denying he has a case to answer."

A Labour Party spokesman said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints about Islamophobia extremely seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

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