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Profile: Trevor Phillips

15 March 10 12:07

Trevor Phillips, the chair of the equalities super-watchdog, has often been a figure of controversy.

The former Labour chairman of the London Assembly has had a rocky relationship with staff and fellow leaders of the equalities community in the UK.

March 2010 saw fresh criticisms of Mr Phillips' leadership of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) when parliamentarians said that some former commissioners had said they felt intimidated by him.

Since its founding in 2007, there has been a series of high-profile departures from the EHRC. A string of commissioners left the body during 2009, along with the chief executive.

One of the former commissioners, Ben Summerskill of gay rights group Stonewall, said that the divisions were so deep that Mr Phillips was damaging the cause of equality by staying on.

A Joint Committee on Human Rights report has now voiced its own concerns over his leadership and questioned the ministerial decision to push through his reappointment for a second term without subjecting it to open competition.

The committee's chair, MP Andrew Dismore, said "major questions remain over the leadership of the EHRC" and that the committee had been "disappointed to hear about perceived conflicts between Mr Phillips and a number of commissioners, well respected in their fields, who resigned".

Mr Phillips faces a separate parliamentary inquiry over claims he tried to influence the committee's findings - although he denies any wrongdoing and has said he would co-operate with parliamentary authorities.

Political ambitions

Trevor Phillips was born in London in 1953 but went to secondary school in Georgetown, Guyana, before returning to London to study chemistry at university.

After becoming head of the National Union of Students, he went into a career in journalism and broadcasting and eventually in 1992 became head of current affairs at LWT, one of the former ITV companies. Business Secretary Lord Mandelson was the best man at his wedding.

Mr Phillips had political ambitions. He sought the nomination to be Labour's candidate for London mayor in 2000 - eventually standing as Frank Dobson's deputy.

Following his subsequent election to the London Assembly, he was appointed as chair of the new body.

London's first mayor, Ken Livingstone, had an acrimonious relationship with Mr Phillips.

Mr Livingstone once said that Mr Phillips had moved so far to the right that he expected him to "soon be joining the British National Party" and was critical of his appointment as chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality in 2003.

Mr Phillips robustly defended his record but Mr Livingstone's remarks reflected the spiky relationship that the new CRE chair had with many left-wingers and traditional race relations campaigners.

Mr Phillips' assertion soon after he took over at the CRE that "multiculturalism" - a policy previously advocated by the race watchdog - encouraged divisions in British society infuriated some campaigners.

'Sleepwalking into segregation'

But highlighting perceived chasms between ethnic groups remained a key theme for Mr Phillips, who was awarded an OBE in 1999.

In September 2005, drawing on an academic report, he warned the UK was "sleepwalking into segregation" and the possible creation of racial ghettos similar to those in the US.

His comments had come during a frantic time for policymakers as they searched for a response to the London suicide bombers. But a year later, he apologised for "mangling" the study he had used to support his analysis.

When the government proposed merging the separate equalities bodies for race, gender and disability, Mr Phillips mounted a ferocious campaign to stop the CRE losing its independence. However, after burying the hatchet with government, he was named as the first chairman of the new Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

His appointment was greeted with dismay by some campaigners who could not understand how he had campaigned against the body and then taken the top job.

For his part, Mr Phillips said the government had dealt with the many reservations of those working in the three different equality commissions.

In a speech marking the 10th anniversary of the Stephen Lawrence murder report, Mr Phillips said that the police should no longer be accused of institutional racism, arguing that detectives would no longer make the mistakes they had in the past.

A year later, Mr Phillip's commission threatened to take police forces to court for disproportionate use of stop and search powers against ethnic minorities.

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