When Trevor Phillips stood down as chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, he had served nine years. His period remains the longest of any UK equality commissioner. So when the confected outrage started over my Sun column about Everton footballer Ross Barkley I was not surprised to see a text pop up from Mr Phillips. I feared he would join the Liverpool bandwagon claiming I was a racist because I had compared the look in the eyes of Barkley with a gorilla. Actually I and every football fan I had ever met believed Barkley to be white. Unluckily for me, but luckily for my enemies in the north-west, that was not entirely true. It emerged that although Barkley looked white, his grandfather was half-Nigerian.
The reality is that had I known of his family tree I would never have made the comparison, but since I am a columnist and not a researcher on Who Do You Think You Are? I didn’t know, and have yet to meet anybody who did. Including the Sun sports editor. So, with hesitation, I read the text from Trevor Phillips expecting it to follow the line of such luminaries as Stan Collymore — presumably from a dogging site in Staffordshire — and Virtue Signaller of the Year, Gary Lineker. But no. This is what he said: ‘WTF? I have to confess I had no idea Barkley was a brother. Sad to see a great city wallowing in victim status. Unbelievable.’ A number of MPs shared his view, believing the reaction was comedic, with Andrew Mitchell, the ex-secretary of state for international development, texting: ‘On behalf of all gorillas I’d like to make a complaint.’ The Sun did not see the joke and suspended my column. The readers didn’t agree and opinion was running 100-1 in my favour, with some threatening a boycott if I didn’t return. Boycott? That would never work, would it?
This is an extract from Kelvin MacKenzie’s Diary, which appears in this week’s Spectator