Opinion: former EHRC chair has merited expulsion for some time – but reaction to his suspension by Labour sheds light on media and centrist hypocrisy
Former EHRC chair Trevor Phillips has been suspended by the Labour Party following complaints of Islamophobia. The party will investigate and act as it believes its investigation merits. Phillips’ comments include the blanket statement that Muslims “see the word differently from the rest of us” in Rupert Murdoch’s Times:
But the reaction to the suspension among the media and Labour right has shed an unflattering light on the way in which Labour’s disciplinary actions are treated by the party’s critics.
The antisemitism comparison
Suspensions of members in the very small number of cases of alleged antisemitism have not been welcomed by the media or by so-called ‘centrists’ – but only in order to criticise the party for not doing more, or sooner, or more and sooner, with the more usually involving summary expulsion.
Similarly, a list of ten demands issued to Labour leadership candidates by the Board of Deputies (BOD) includes requirements not only ‘swift resolution’ of outstanding cases – there can be little realistic doubt that ‘resolution’ means ‘expel’ – but the summary suspension of anyone who appears with suspended members or says anything supporting them:
No exception is made for supporting or campaigning for members who have been suspended over what their supporters may feel are false or flimsy allegations.
Other demands in the list of ten include the ostracising of Jewish groups who do not agree with what the BOD considers ‘main’ groups and the public condemnation of named individuals by the party – again, with no proviso that this only applies to people already found guilty.
Yet the response to Mr Phillips’ suspension has been one of horrified astonishment that the party should act ‘swiftly’ to suspend him while it investigates the complaints against him.
Grounds for expulsion
It is the view of the SKWAWKBOX that Trevor Phillips has merited expulsion from the Labour Party for some time – and that under Labour’s rules it could have done so without suspension and investigation.
Last year, Phillips publicly announced that he would not vote for the party, which would appear a clear breach of the party’s rules on members campaigning against it – which those rules say will incur ‘auto-exclusion’ of the type imposed on former Blair adviser Alastair Campbell after he said on radio that he had voted LibDem.
In addition, Labour’s disciplinary procedures warn members of potential consequences if they breach confidentiality – and yet Trevor Phillips has gone to the Murdoch press to attack his suspension:
Phillips has also spoken at Tory-sponsored events as a critic of the Labour Party.
But more importantly, the reaction of the centrist/right media and the Labour right to news of his suspension has been rife with hypocrisy.
Some Labour members suspended over antisemitism complaints have attempted to defend themselves on the grounds that not all Jewish people are zionists and not all zionists are Jewish, or that Jewish people are not a monolith – and that it is antisemitic to suggest that all their criticisms have been of the actions of Israel, or of proponents of zionism, have pointed out that .
Such defences have been attacked, dismissed and vilified – and even used as evidence of antisemitism in themselves – yet in his Times article today, Phillips defended his comments by using the near-identical argument that not all Muslims think alike.
Phillips quotes a pamphlet he wrote – ironically for a right-wing think-tank:
In a pamphlet for the Policy Exchange think tank, I responded that… the undefined concept “Muslimness” implies that all adherents agree on doctrine, dress and behaviours: it’s the far-left equivalent of the racist cliché “they all look the same to me”.
Similarly, the media and Labour right have been quick to condemn Jeremy Corbyn by association, including any citation of Corbyn’s words or policies by antisemites. Yet Phillips has been quoted by far-right criminal Tommy Robinson:
Nonetheless, the Labour right – in many cases the same people who have attacked Labour for supposedly not suspending alleged antisemites quickly enough – has reacted with outrage to the suspension of Phillips. Former Labour MP John Mann, one of the most vocal in calling for summary expulsions of those he considered antisemitic and who is now a Tory-made peer, described Phillips’ suspension as ‘Orwellian’:
The media have also jumped in to claim that Labour’s action against Phillips – over complaints of alleged racism, remember – is some form of madness or a demonstration that Labour is disappearing down some kind of rabbit hole, along the lines of ‘But, but he’s an antiracist campaigner!’
But those same media, together with their friends on the Labour right, saw no conflict in their ever-escalating descriptions of lifelong antiracist campaigner Jeremy Corbyn as antisemitic.
As so often, author Michael Rosen – who has written movingly of his family’s losses during the Holocaust – has been one of the best commentators on the situation:
Trevor Phillips should not be in the Labour Party, according to the party’s own rules. At the very least, there is nothing remotely controversial about his suspension while complaints about his comments are investigated.
But the same media commentators and politicians who have castigated Labour for not summarily expelling members about whom antisemitism complaints have been made – many of which have subsequently been found to be groundless and even vexatious – are sharpening their pitchforks over Trevor Phillips’ administrative suspension by the party while it investigates racism complaints against him.
That situation, ludicrous as it is, is at least useful in shedding light on the conduct of the media and right-wing politicians of various rosette-colours.
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