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Trevor, do you qualify?

by Lester Holloway

TWO OF THE biggest figures in equalities have spoken about the skills the leader of a new super-equalities body must have.

Lord Herman Ouseley
Big-hitter: Lord Herman Ouseley

Big-hitters Lord Herman Ouseley and Ben Summerskill, whose views are respected across the equalities spectrum, described the sort of leader who should take control of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR).

Neither men have backed any CEHR candidate, and neither have singled out any individual for criticism.

But anti-racist campaigners claimed the qualities that Lord Ouseley and Mr Summerskill described as necessary for the chairman of the CEHR were not found in abundance in Trevor Phillips, the present Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) chairman.

Lord Ouseley, a former CRE chairman, said he hoped the government would appoint a CEHR chairman who was independent-minded; had the confidence of communities; and was committed to enforcement of equalities laws.


He told Blink the CEHR chairman must have 'full independence of mind, not attached to government.' The right person should 'have the confidence of people' across the various equalities strands that make up the new body, which comes into effect next year.

Ben Summerskill
Ben Summerskill: said not all CEHR candidates were top quality.

Lord Ouseley is not a candidate for the job, said: 'They've got to be able to say “butt out” to the government if what they want is not in the interests of equalities.'

The peer made no mention of Mr Phillips, however the current CRE chairman has been criticised for toe-ing the New Labour line on many issues.

Mr Phillips ran as Labour candidate for deputy mayor in 1999 alongside Frank Dobson, who was beaten by Ken Livingstone. Mr Phillips was also Labour chairman of the London Assembly before being appointed to the CRE.

He counts former Home Secretary Charles Clarke and other senior government figures as close personal friends.

Lord Ouseley is running neck-and-neck in the popularity stakes in a Blink poll with Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, who is believed to have applied.


The peer said the ideal candidate 'must be committed to enforcement', adding: 'We've got laws we don't enforce at the moment. These qualities are essential if the new body is going to work.'

 - quote - There are some extremely good candidates and some not so good ones.  - unquote -
Ben Summerskill

It is believed Lord Ouseley was not singling out any individual, but his comments come just days after The 1990 Trust and Operation Black Vote blasted Mr Phillips for reducing the number of discrimination legal cases the CRE was supporting.

In 2004 the CRE fully supported just one race case, a fact Mr Phillips claimed to be proud of, for saving taxpayers money. Critics, including Lee Jasper, said fighting racism was not a question of saving cash but of protecting victims.

Mr Summerskill, who had been mooted as a possible candidate for CEHR chair in the past but is understood not to have applied, said the most important quality was being able to bridge the divides between different equalities lobbies.

He added: 'There are some extremely good candidates and some not so good ones.'


It is understood Mr Phillips is not popular amongst the seven equalities strands that will make up the new super commission, partly as a result of his ever-changing position over whether he supported or opposed the process.

Mr Phillips began by fully supporting the CEHR, and even saying that black representation was not an issue. He then changed tack claiming the proposals were 'bad for equality and bad for race.' Mr Phillips has now come full circle and is back in the government's camp.

He angered anti-racist campaigners by ratting on his pledge to not support the single equalities body if it reduced the powers to enforce race laws.

As MPs like Diane Abbott and Keith Vaz turned up the heat on government over the absence of a race committee in the CEHR structure, Mr Phillips claimed to be lobbying for this behind the scenes only for activists to later discover he did not.

The final straw appears to have been the Equalities Review, which was supposed to have been a root-and-branch audit of government race policies led by Mr Phillips.

This report was heavily criticised by race groups for falsely placing an emphasis on the failure of Black communities to 'integrate' instead of tackling the causes of race discrimination in society.

Prior to the spring government reshuffle Mr Phillips was openly telling colleagues he was out of favour with Westminster. He was understood to have had a prickly relationship with equalities minister Meg Munn.

But the appointment Ruth Kelly as cabinet minister for communities seems to have changed that. It is believed Ms Kelly was lining Mr Phillips up as CEHR chairman with Bert Massie, the present chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, as his deputy.

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Responses to the Equalities Review Interim Report

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Equalities Review Interim Report Briefing – Addressing Race Equality

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pdf Improving Opportunity, Strengthening Society: The Government's race strategy

CRE response to DTI Statement on Commission for Equality and Human Rights

Equality and Diversity Forum welcomes the progress on a Commission for Equality and Human Rights

Summary of Changes to the CEHR

The 1990 Trust’s response to the CEHR White Paper

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