A long-running 'feud'

The Tory London assembly member on what he says is one of the longest-running feuds in London politi

One of the longest running London political feuds is that between Trevor Phillips, the Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality and Ken Livingstone.

The row partly goes back to 2000 when Phillips ran as Frank Dobson’s deputy in his ill-fated Mayoral Campaign against Livingstone.

The following three years that Phillips spent on the London Assembly (including being its first Chairman) were probably not the most productive of Phillips’ career as Livingstone seemed to frustrate Trevor at every opportunity.

"I won’t have that Bastard Phillips on the Police Authority," was Ken’s remark to the first meeting of Tory Assembly members, and consequently Trevor had to sit through two years of endless London Fire Brigade meetings although he learnt at first hand what equalities mean in an organisation that had then barely emerged from the 1950s.

When Trevor moved on to the Commission for Racial Equality he had clearly found his niche in British Public Life and his immensely thoughtful contributions on race issues, stressing the need for integration, discussing the nature of Britishness gave the CRE credence it previously lacked.

The more sensible Phillips' speeches the more vicious Livingstone’s attacks culminating in the bizarre allegation that Phillips was pandering to the BNP.

Indeed in 2006 City Hall went to a great deal of trouble and expenditure to organise a race conference on the same day the CRE had a big event.

I was reflecting on this as I enjoyed a pleasant early evening reception at the French Ambassadors residence in Kensington Palace Gardens to mark the award of the Chevalier de Legion d’ honour to Trevor to go alongside his OBE.

A mixed crowd of the great and the good, including a couple of Conservative MPs, one Labour Assembly Member but strangely not the Mayor of London heard Trevor pay tribute to the French President Nicholas Sarkozy for taking the diversity agenda seriously in France especially in the make up of his new Government.

It has long been my view that whereas the left talk a good story on diversity and equality issues it is actually the right that drive through the agenda. On the London Fire Authority 10 years of Labour control between 1990 and 2000 saw virtually no progress yet all changed when a Tory became lead member on equality issues.

The left spend so much time arguing amongst themselves and playing one ethnic group off against another. I was flabbergasted when locally a Hindu Labour Councillor complained to me that we had invited a Muslim fellow Labour Councillor to take part in a veterans day service earlier this year. The conviction of Waltham Forest Labour Councillor Miranda Grell (a former aide to Deputy Mayor Nicky Gavron) under rarely used provisions of the Representation of the People Act for telling voters her Lib Dem opponent was a paedophile have shown how often the ethnic groups on the left are hostile to the gay rights agenda.

Trevor Phillips great achievement has been to mainstream the whole equalities agenda in the UK and it is not just the French Government that owes him a debt of gratitude.

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
Garry Knight via Creative Commons
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Why Barack Obama was right to release Chelsea Manning

A Presidential act of mercy is good for Manning, but also for the US.

In early 2010, a young US military intelligence analyst on an army base near Baghdad slipped a Lady Gaga CD into a computer and sang along to the music. In fact, the soldier's apparently upbeat mood hid two facts. 

First, the soldier later known as Chelsea Manning was completely alienated from army culture, and the callous way she believed it treated civilians in Iraq. And second, she was quietly erasing the music on her CDs and replacing it with files holding explosive military data, which she would release to the world via Wikileaks. 

To some, Manning is a free speech hero. To others, she is a traitor. President Barack Obama’s decision to commute her 35-year sentence before leaving office has been blasted as “outrageous” by leading Republican Paul Ryan. Other Republican critics argue Obama is rewarding an act that endangered the lives of soldiers and intelligence operatives while giving ammunition to Russia. 

They have a point. Liberals banging the drum against Russia’s leak offensive during the US election cannot simultaneously argue leaks are inherently good. 

But even if you think Manning was deeply misguided in her use of Lady Gaga CDs, there are strong reasons why we should celebrate her release. 

1. She was not judged on the public interest

Manning was motivated by what she believed to be human rights abuses in Iraq, but her public interest defence has never been tested. 

The leaks were undoubtedly of public interest. As Manning said in the podcast she recorded with Amnesty International: “When we made mistakes, planning operations, innocent people died.” 

Thanks to Manning’s leak, we also know about the Vatican hiding sex abuse scandals in Ireland, plus the UK promising to protect US interests during the Chilcot Inquiry. 

In countries such as Germany, Canada and Denmark, whistle blowers in sensitive areas can use a public interest defence. In the US, however, such a defence does not exist – meaning it is impossible for Manning to legally argue her actions were in the public good. 

2. She was deemed worse than rapists and murderers

Her sentence was out of proportion to her crime. Compare her 35-year sentence to that received by William Millay, a young police officer, also in 2013. Caught in the act of trying to sell classified documents to someone he believed was a Russian intelligence officer, he was given 16 years

According to Amnesty International: “Manning’s sentence was much longer than other members of the military convicted of charges such as murder, rape and war crimes, as well as any others who were convicted of leaking classified materials to the public.”

3. Her time in jail was particularly miserable 

Manning’s conditions in jail do nothing to dispel the idea she has been treated extraordinarily harshly. When initially placed in solitary confinement, she needed permission to do anything in her cell, even walking around to exercise. 

When she requested treatment for her gender dysphoria, the military prison’s initial response was a blanket refusal – despite the fact many civilian prisons accept the idea that trans inmates are entitled to hormones. Manning has attempted suicide several times. She finally received permission to receive gender transition surgery in 2016 after a hunger strike

4. Julian Assange can stop acting like a martyr

Internationally, Manning’s continued incarceration was likely to do more harm than good. She has said she is sorry “for hurting the US”. Her worldwide following has turned her into an icon of US hypocrisy on free speech.

Then there's the fact Wikileaks said its founder Julian Assange would agree to be extradited to the US if Manning was released. Now that Manning is months away from freedom, his excuses for staying in the Equadorian London Embassy to avoid Swedish rape allegations are somewhat feebler.  

As for the President - under whose watch Manning was prosecuted - he may be leaving his office with his legacy in peril, but with one stroke of his pen, he has changed a life. Manning, now 29, could have expected to leave prison in her late 50s. Instead, she'll be free before her 30th birthday. And perhaps the Equadorian ambassador will finally get his room back. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.