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Fri, 10 July 2020

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Shadow minister says Labour has 'lost its way' as party suspends anti-racism campaigner Trevor Phillips

Shadow minister says Labour has 'lost its way' as party suspends anti-racism campaigner Trevor Phillips
3 min read

A Labour frontbencher has launched a bitter attack on party bosses over the "astonishing" decision to suspend anti-racism campaigner Trevor Phillips over claims of Islamophobia.


Shadow Europe minister Khalid Mahmood said the move to discipline the former head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission had brought "disrepute" on the party, while ex-Cabinet minister Lord Falconer andsenior backbencher Ben Bradshaw also hit out.

Mr Phillips was told last month that he had been handed an administrative suspension over a string of public statements on Islam, as well as a pamphlet on race and faith he wrote for the think tank Civitas.

A charge sheet issued to the campaigner says he may have "engaged in conduct prejudicial and/or grossly detrimental" to the party , and which may "reasonably be seen to involve Islamophobic actions, stereotypes and sentiments".

They include claims by Mr Phillip 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".

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

Writing in The Times, Mr Phillips said he believed 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.

The move has also drawn anger from several Labour firgures, with Mr Mahmood saying: "It was with no small measure of astonishment that I learnt that my own party, the Labour Party, had initiated proceedings against Trevor Phillips on grounds of ‘racism’ and ‘Islamophobia’."

Writing for the Policy Exchange think tank, he said: "The charges are so outlandish as to bring disrepute on all involved in making them; and I fear they further add to the sense that we, as a party, have badly lost our way."

"I cannot speak to the internal politics that may be involved in the decision to launch this case, but I want to underline my own dismay at how this case seems to represent the final deformation of attempts to define ‘Islamophobia’."

'STARK CONTRAST'

Mr Mahmood, Britain's longest-serving Muslim member of Parliament, has been critical of the definiition of Islamophobia drawn up by the All-Party  Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims.

The definition - which says Islamophobia is a "type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness" - has been rejected for use by the Government, but accepted by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the mayor of London.

Urging Labour to drop the "fundamentally flawed" definition from its rule book, Mr Mahmood said: "The Labour Party, having adopted the APPG definition on Islamophobia, seems to be intent on wielding it as a for rooting out ‘difficult’ voices."

The decision to suspend Mr Phillips, who sits on the board of the Index on Censorship campaign group, meanwhile prompted an outcry from from two Labour former Cabinet minsiter.

Ex-justice secretary Lord Falconer said Mr Phillips had been suspended on "laughable grounds", and drew parallels with the expulsion of Tony Blair's ex-communications chief Alastair Campbell, a fellow critic of Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour peer tweeted: "Faith completely gone in a disciplinary process that targets the leadership’s critics and fails to fight anti-semitism."

And former secretary Ben Bradshaw said: "This swift action against Trevor Phillips is in stark contrast to the complete lack of action against anti-semites I and many other Labour MPs have reported repeatedly to [general secretary] Jennie Formby."

A Labour Party spokesperson 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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