Ministers Pick Phillips to Lead New Human Rights and Equalities Body

{mosimage}The government has chosen Trevor Phillips to be the head of a new human rights and equalities body, the Guardian has learned. Mr Phillips, head of the Commission for Racial Equality, met officials last Thursday from the Department for Communities and Local government, which will oversee the new body. He saw Peter Housden and officials involved in the new Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, to learn of the work they have done so far to establish the body.

The announcement of the government’s choice to head the new commission has been delayed several times. The plan is to announce the choice of Mr Phillips next Wednesday. But while ministers regard the former broadcaster as a safe pair of hands, their choice will be opposed by activists who have been conducting a campaign to ensure he does not get the job.

The website Black Links or Blink, which has run critical articles, said: “The government has chosen a Labour lapdog with no grassroots support to head the £70m super-equalities body.” Karen Chouhan, a trustee of the 1990 Trust, Blink’s parent organisation, added: “It is incredible that the new chair of the CEHR is the very person who has said the CEHR was a train-wreck waiting to happen.”

Mr Phillips’ credentials were also questioned last week by London’s mayor Ken Livingstone, who said Mr Phillips had become so rightwing he could soon be a member of the British National party. The new commission will begin work next October and will take over the functions of the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission. It will take on race as one of its responsibilities at some point before 2009.

Sources say Mr Phillips was one of three names sent to ministers after three candidates were interviewed. The others were Shami Chakrabarti, chair of the civil rights group Liberty who has been a critic of the government, and Lady Prosser, a former treasurer of the Labour party. Mr Phillips first supported the new commission, but then opposed it shortly after becoming CRE chair. The CRE is not due to be part of the new body until 2009 because of his opposition and that of many black groups who feared race would suffer when merged with other equality issues. The government has still to decide whether the CRE remains independent of the commission, or whether it is subsumed earlier than scheduled.