Broadcaster accused of exploiting Lawrence case in fight for mayor

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The Independent Online
THE PHONEY war over who should become the Mayor of London finally ended yesterday when broadcaster Trevor Phillips declared his intention to stand for the post.

After months of speculation, the gloves came off in the race when Mr Phillips announced that he was definitely entering the contest and wanted to run as a Labour candidate. Mr Phillips' decision to declare his candidacy means that he is only the third person, along with Ken Livingstone and LordArcher of Weston-super-Mare, to publicly announce his aim to become Britain's first directly elected mayor.

The 45-year-old presenter of London Weekend Television's London Programme said he had decided to stand because recent reports of who was and was not in the running were in danger of turning the whole affair into "a farce".

"After 20 years of crusading for London as a reporter I think it's about time instead of just telling politicians what to do, I would like to play a part in making it happen," he said.

However, Mr Phillips was immediately plunged into controversy over his declaration that the Stephen Lawrence case was one of the main factors behind his decision to stand for mayor.

He said that "without any doubt at all", the inquiry into the racist murder of the London teenager had convinced him that more black people should get involved in public life.

"In the last few weeks, in the Lawrence discussion and debate, what we have seen in London is the fact that this is a city of great diversity. I think I can play a part in turning that diversity into our advantage. I would like to lead that city," he told BBC's Breakfast with Frost programme.

"We who come from minority communities have a right to say that we would like things to be better and different and to include us. But if we want that to happen, we also have a responsibility. That means we have to join the police and get involved with public affairs and I think that by doing this I might be giving a lead to some of my community."

But Tory sources alleged that Mr Phillips was "cynically" using public concern over thetragedy to justify his candidacy, a charge he rebutted vigorously as "nonsense".

"I was the first person to do a documentary on the Lawrence case in 1993 and have been a supporter of the family's efforts since day one. To suggest that it is cynical of me to say it has played a part in me standing is itself utterly cynical and outrageous," Mr Phillips told The Independent.

Mr Phillips was also called on by Lord Archer, the Tory front-runner, to give up his job as a current affairs presenter to avoid any potential conflict of interest or media bias.

"I just hope Trevor and all others who come aboard are going to devote their full energies to this and not do it part time. I presume Trevor will be giving up his job as a news presenter," Lord Archer said.

The broadcaster said that he would stand aside from chairing mayoral TV debates, but refused to stop reporting on London issues.

Recent reports have named Frank Dobson, the Secretary of State for Health and Mo Mowlam, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as the Labour leadership's favoured candidates for mayor, even though both have dismissed the idea. Other possible candidates include Nick Raynsford, the minister for London, Glenda Jackson, the Transport minister, and Tony Banks, the Sports minister.

Mr Phillips was accused last year by the Tories of using his role as head of the "Yes" campaign in the referendum on the London mayoralty as a platform for his own ambitions.

Lord Archer of Weston-super-Mare

Why Mayor?

"This city needs a strategic approach to tackle its problems and needs someone banging the drum for it abroad."

Why Me?

"I've spent the past two years meeting the people that run things, seeing the problems and finding solutions."

My Rivals?

"I welcome all candidates who are prepared to take this seriously and do the hard work."

Ken Livingstone

Why Mayor?

"London needs a voice again, it needs to be given back its self-respect."

Why Me?

"I have screwed it up once, I will not do the same again. Of course I have yet to persuade Tony of that."

My Rivals?

"I welcome them all. The more the merrier as far as I'm concerned."

Trevor Phillips

Why Mayor?

"It's a great job. But it shouldn't be a circus about who Tony Blair likes and who William Hague says can stand."

Why Me?

"I want to send a signal that there are people who are serious and who want to do the best for the city."

My Rivals?

"I feel this shouldn't be a platform for people who are, frankly, near the back end of their political careers."