Commissioners at the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) are fleeing the storm-tossed ship; Kamal Ahmed, the Communications Director, is returning to journalism, and six commissioners have left.
Captain Trevor Phillips hangs in there, ingloriously defiant to the last, even though he has presided over bad governance, a culture of bullying and failure to live up to the basic principles of equality. According to one Sunday paper he says racism is behind a vendetta against him – a pathetic complaint with no basis.
The National Audit Office has raised serious concerns. So too have Lords Ouseley and Dholakia. Anti-racists mistrust the man; feminists are even more sceptical; ex-commissioners, gay rights champion Ben Summerskill and disability campaigner Sir Bert Massie have expressed savage criticism and Age Concern's Sally Greengross is apparently deeply unhappy.
The commissioners I know are in complete despair. Responding to the unprecedented uproar, Harriet Harman has just renewed his contract as chairman for another three years – either an astounding lapse of judgement or yet more evidence that Phillips's prodigious progress is driven by political expediency. Public interest does not even get a walk on part.
Let me say this, although he is so angry with me he won't believe a word. Trevor is an excellent journalist, one of the smartest communicators in the land and sometimes ( in discreet gatherings where right wingers are unlikely to hear) can deliver incisive analyses on the divisions in our nation. He gets credit for a handful of impressive EHRC interventions. But none of this can redeem him.
When he was first given the top job I wrote of my dismay. He was the wrong man for a vitally important role, but one who knew the right New Labour people. They had made him Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality before this. There he was dogged by controversy. Before that he was Chair of the Runnymede Trust, a non-governmental race think-tank led by him to unrest. I personally know employees who threatened to bring discrimination cases against a Phillips appointee, who then left rapidly. It is shocking, the extent of Phillips' misrule. But the media loved him and he got away with it.
The EHRC finally materialised after years of hard work and debate. I was with the new wave, who argued that a unified commission would be stronger and eventually ensure all Britons – black, white, old, young men, women, able-bodied and disabled, gay and straight – had some protection against unfair treatment. Helena Kennedy, Shami Chakrabarti, or Michael Mansfield – fiercely independent lawyers – would have skilfully steered the newborn commission. Instead, Blair chose the apparatchik Phillips, who had opposed the idea of the EHRC.
Press rumour has it that Trevor Phillips threatened to join the Tories and accuse Harman of antipathy to black men. I don't know if any of that is true. It is clear though that, without Mandelson back in power, Phillips would be out.
A political choice was made for a job that should be apolitical. So it has all ended in tears. Phillips should go but the nervy government won't make him.
Now the Tories are turning their fire on the Commission and it could be dismantled under them. Trevor Phillips, though, will only go on to more big things. As ever.
Feminism should not put its gladrags on just yet
As a lady of many years, I was heartened by the outcry in newspapers against the decision to axe Arlene Phillips from Strictly Come Dancing. Only, you soon realise the protests were deceitful and insincere. On those same pages appear endless examples of the sexism that stalks successful women.
Take this week. Formidable BBC economics guru Stephanie Flanders, has just been promoted to become an on-screen senior editor, the first woman ever to get that far up. Not very impressed, the female interviewer obsessively questioned Flanders about her childcare arrangements, maternity leave and maternal guilt.
Do we have any of this information on Robert Peston? Do we care? Then there was the Newsnight doyenne Kirsty Wark who has set up a new charity for men with cancer after her dad died of the disease. For the photo shoot, she was togged up in a tight red party dress and seven-inch red shoes, looking good, but why?
Jon Snow, when he backs charities, does not expect to have pictures with a shirt open to his naval or, in other ways, turn on potential supporters. Powerful, high-flying women clearly feel they must submit to these outrageous expectations. They can't say no. What a long way there is still to walk for feminism.
Zanzibar objectors will not kill my voice
The international furore raised by last week's column on Zanzibar and the programmes I made for BBC World Service demands a comeback. Many appreciated the broadcasts and column, but the rest, the rest were Zanzibaris objectors who simply wanted to kill my voice. Mine was a personal reflection of childhood memories and periods of darkness in Zanzibar, buried too long. Such a subjective exploration was considered offensive by these censorious keepers of history.
Zanzibar was an Arab slave port for centuries, yet I am told Muslims did not enslave Africans and that such lies are perpetuated by Christians and Hindus. Or, yes there was slavery but it was so much nicer than the Anglo-British variety. Or, I had not read the right books, put questions into the mouths of interviewees, was blasphemous because I said Islam was responsible ( I have never once said anything of the sort).
A top Zanzibari professor was among the grossest deniers. The 1964 revolution, when 17,000 Arabs and Indians were slaughtered largely by Africans, brought more foaming rebuttals: it was all to do with the Cold War and colonialism, never racial hatred, definitely not slavery; the soldiers were migrants; I had not read the right books, etc etc.
One of my tormentors did grudgingly accept that I had opened the topics up for frank discussion. But the frankness he wants is not what any of us would understand by the word. Such reactions make journalists appreciate better why we do what we do and must. It has been one of those affirming weeks for me.Reuse content