Minister who infuriated Muslims is put in charge of immigration policy
By Glen Owen and Brendan Carlin
Last updated at 10:13 PM on 04th October 2008
Muslim groups expressed anger last night after a Labour politician who has been at the centre of a series of race controversies was made Immigration Minister.
Phil Woolas, previously an Environment Minister, was handed the brief despite infuriating the Pakistani community earlier this year by warning they were fuelling birth defects by inter-marrying.
He also caused anger following the Oldham race riots by calling for 'the reality of anti-white racism' to be acknowledged.
Last night, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee condemned his appointment. A spokesman said: 'Phil Woolas has a track record of insensitive, inappropriate outbursts that have verged on Islamophobia.
'He is a Minister clearly out of his depth. We will monitor his work for any more signs of his all too obvious antipathy towards British Muslims.'
His appointment was part of a raft of junior ministerial changes announced by Gordon Brown yesterday, including rewards for MPs who led the famous 'curry-house' plot against Tony Blair.
Former Church of England vicar Chris Bryant, the flamboyant gay MP for Rhondda, who played a key role in the 2006 conspiracy, was rewarded with the job of deputy to Commons Leader Harriet Harman.
Mr Bryant, who famously apologised in 2003 for emailing a picture of himself in his underpants via a gay website, ran Ms Harman's successful campaign for the Labour deputy leadership last year.
Birmingham Erdington MP Sion Simon, who was also involved in the coup, was promoted to junior Minister at John Denham's Universities Department.
No10 also announced that Culture Minister Margaret Hodge was taking compassionate leave to look after her sick husband and would be replaced by Barbara Follett, wife of bestselling author Ken Follett.
Mr Woolas, the Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, embarrassed Downing Street in February by arguing that marriages between first cousins are a factor in birth defects and inherited conditions.
'Part of the risk, I am told by the health service, is first-cousin marriages,' he said. 'If you are supportive of the Asian community then you have a duty to raise this issue.'
It is estimated that 55 per cent of British Pakistanis are married to first cousins.
The likelihood of unrelated couples having children with genetic disorders is about 100-1, but it rises to one in eight for first cousins.
British Pakistani children account for as many as one-third of birth defects, despite making up only three per cent of all UK births.
After Muslim groups accused Mr Woolas of 'flirting with Islamophobia', Downing Street was quick to stress that he was speaking in his capacity as a constituency MP.
It followed a series of outspoken remarks in defence of the white working class which began when he warned after the Oldham race riots in 2001 that Labour would lose out to the British National Party unless it did more to 'create a country at ease with itself'.
Last year, in an article for The Mail on Sunday, he said: 'Among the groups who are missing out and who suffer genuine discrimination is the white teenage underclass.
'Such people are fashionably dismissed as “chav scum” or “trailer trash”.
'But to say such things is to be as guilty of stereotyping as those who say that all Muslims support terrorists.'