2024 SW London Assembly elections: Interview with Labour candidate Marcella Benedetti

Labour Party’s candidate for the SW London Assembly seat Marcella Benedetti

“I think people in the south-west are ready for a change and I think they’re ready to vote Labour”

The Mayoral elections take place on Thursday 2 May. Sadiq Khan is defending his record, and up for election also are the 25 London Assembly members whose job it is to hold the mayor to account. The Mayor’s office and the London Assembly together form the Greater London Authority, responsible for transport, policing, planning, culture, environment, health, fire and emergency services and economic planning in London.

In the run up to the 2024 London elections, The Chiswick Calendar is interviewing contenders for the South-West seat, which covers the three boroughs of Hounslow, Richmond and Kingston.

Marcela Benedetti is standing for the Labour Party, a Latin-American-European who has lived in London for 16 years. Marcela brings her skills as a barrister working with victims of domestic violence. The role of the London Assembly is to hold the Mayor’s office to account and she thinks her experience as a barrister would be useful in that role.

She says people in Chiswick have told her on the doorstep they are are hungry for change, and she believes many will vote Labour. She hopes she will work closely with the incumbent Mayor of London to deliver and expand on what she has described as the successes of his time in office: free school meals, tube fare freezes and reducing air pollution across London.

Marcela also hopes to be working closely with a Labour Prime Minister in the not-too-distant future.

During our interview I quizzed her on ULEZ, shoplifting in Chiswick and what she thinks are the most important pressing issues facing Londoners – and what she’ll be doing about them if elected.

Read my interview with Marcela below.

The Chiswick Calendar’s interview with Marcela Benedetti – Labour Party

Could you give voters a bit of background about yourself?

“I have been living here for 16 years. I arrived in the UK and in southwest London, that was my first home and my only home, but I am originally from Argentina. I was born and grew up there but my mother is a Bolivian. My great grandparents were Italian immigrants to Argentina at the end of the 19th century. So I’m coming from a family of immigrants, we have moved around the world.

“Moving to the UK was a choice, looking at the UK from South America I thought this was a country with a lot of values and opportunities that were really attractive to me. Even though I didn’t speak English when I first arrived, so it was a bit of a challenge

And what’s motivated you to run for the London Assembly?

“Well it’s together with my story, what motivated me to get into politics was that when I was a baby there was a military coup, my dad was a prisoner, he was a political prisoner and we as a family suffered quite a lot.

“He was later released and we needed to move internally in the country to to small city where I grew up for security and safety reasons. I witnessed the coming back of democracy when I was a child, there was big party and my family was very political, my dad was a local councillor there. By the time I was 12, 11, I was knocking doors with my dad and I was helping with local politics.

“But when I made the decision to move in the UK, I didn’t speak, as I say, didn’t speak the language and after a while when I learned the language and I was settled and all of that, I wanted to participate in politics.

“So I went to my first political meeting and what happens? A Tory councillor said that migrants of the first generation didn’t have the right to participate in politics. So, I thought, you know, back then, I thought that was true, I went back to focus on my child and focus on my job in the domestic abuse sector.

“In that journey I met another councillor and his accent was stronger than my accent, so I thought I can participate in politics and I joined the Labour Party.

“In terms of the Assembly, the south-west is my home in London and as given me so much and now that I feel I have the tools and I feel like have the experience and I’m in a good moment in my life to represent and to give back all the good things I received, me and my family received, from the south-west.

What issues do you see are the most pressing ones facing southwest Londoners

“Yeah, that’s a good question because I’ve been knocking doors and one of my favourite things as a politician is to be able to be knock doors and talk to people, so I’m listening to their concerns but also to things they enjoy.

“I think the number one concern in almost every household is the cost of living crisis and I think that is true for everybody in different of the same issue. That is one thing that is a number one concern.

“I think that I another the concern is, in terms of what platform I’m standing, I think the the free school meals that the Mayor planned and has been supplying for to all the state Primary School children is making a huge difference for those families as well as the freezing of the TfL fares, that is making a huge impact.

“I was thinking for example with myself, some years ago those two policies will have made a huge difference in my life, when I was a single mother working full time in central London looking after my son…

“So I’m standing in a platform that is helping families to go through the crisis.

“But another thing that is very close to my heart as well is the pollution in the river, all over our constituency we are so lucky we have such beautiful places to walk along the river and green spaces. I hear in Chiswick it’s the best place to watch the Boat Race at Chiswick Pier – I haven’t been there to watch the boat race but maybe next year if I am a representative for the south-west it would be great.

“And also [the issue of sewage in the Thames] is important for families around here and important for me as one of my favourite things to do is to walk around the river. So that’s another thing I would like to put to Sadiq and to push him for the cleaning of the river.”

With regards to pollution, let’s talk about air pollution and Ulez, other candidates have complained about ULEZ and have said that it hits poorer households the hardest, what would you say to that critique and would you say there’s anything that could have been done to mitigate that impact?

“I think that Ulez as a public health issue, it is important. I was lucky to meet the mother of the little girl who died [due to] air pollution, and after having a conversation with her I was absolutely convinced that was the right decision to make.

“I think that the Mayor has put Londoners first with the scrappage scheme, so that everybody can apply for a car that is compliant, and he has heard people and amplified that for every Londoner now so everybody can apply for that.

“But if we look the statistics, we will see that only one in ten cars in London are not compliant. But I think it was the right decision to make, it was a difficult decision and I understand the concerns of some people but I think it was the right decision.”

On to police reform, how would you assist with Sadiq’s plans for police reform? I’m not sure whether you’re familiar with any of our reporting on shoplifting and the increase of shoplifting locally, how do you think police reform can assist with that problem?

“I think that, I like because Sadiq always talks about the causes of crime and not only the impact of crime, it’s just we have to look at crime in a more holistic way. If we are seeing an increase in certain crimes we also have to look at the causes. We have to see that in the last 14 years, all public services have had huge cuts including the police.

“We in the past have had community police where we would have known their names, they would have kept an eye on the local area – that was cut and one of Sadiq’s pledges is to put more community police in the streets.

“But also it is really important to remember that a the Conservative Government has cut youth services and youth clubs a lot, and it’s something Sadiq wants to invest in as well. That is an issue very close to my heart because I work in domestic abuse, so I work with crime all the time and I’ve saw first hand how those cuts, in those public services, have made it almost impossible for women and children fleeing abuse to be able to do it…

“The MOPAC, which is the Mayor’s policing service, has done an absolutely great job in keeping alive small organisations providing support to young people, but also to victims of domestic abuse, hate crime, trafficking and so-on.”

Can you tell me a bit about your role role in the domestic abuse organisation that you work with?

“I am a barrister by training in South America and when I came here I joined the voluntary sector, where I have been working for 15 years now. As I told you I didn’t speak English but I really wanted to do something and I found this organisation that supported Latin-American women living in the UK, so I started to work with them and at the same time able tolearn the language and going into a master’s degree, which I did in London.

“I was working for them for five years then moved to a national organisation, I’ve been working in the front line, I’ve been managing services, I’ve accompanied clients to court, I’ve been in training, working with the police and training different organisations about domestic abuse and other forms of violence.”

The seat has been traditionally by a Conservative since its inception, do you think this time around they’ll be unseated? What are people saying on the doorstep?

“Yes absolutely, the seat has always been Tory, I haven’t met any of my previous AMs, but I think people are looking for a change absolutely. I think people are looking for a change at the national level and that an impact what is said on the doorstep.

“I was just out knocking doors in Chiswick and was having conversations with neighbours there and they were welcoming of Sadiq’s all of policies, they were happy to vote for him and to give him their support again. They were happy to meet me as well and have a conversation with myself. I think people in the south-west are ready for a change and I think they’re ready to vote Labour.”

But what difference do you think you can make, realistically, as an Assembly member? As it is a scrutiny role, we’ve spoken about the cost of living and pollution in rivers, what difference can you make?

“As I said before I am a barrister so I have been trained to ask difficult questions in difficult circumstances, I think I am really well placed to ask those difficult questions to organisations. Transport for London, the Metropolitan Police, adult education, all those questions to deputy mayors and to the Mayor himself I think our job as Assembly Members is as you say scrutiny, and we need to be prepared to make those difficult questions.

“But I also think we are the ones who will be advocating for people in the south-west. I think it’s time for the south-west to have a Labour AM who will work close with the Mayor and also close hopefully with the future Prime Minister and we can help put the south-west on the map together.”

My final question will be why are a better choice than your fellow candidates

“I am, first of all I really believe in representation, as I told you before I really believed politics was not for me because I was told that until I met somebody who sounded like me. I think representation is important and I would be the first every Latin-American-European AM in history and we do have a huge community of Latin-Americans and Europeans living in London they deserve to have representation. That is something.

“But also I have a lot of experience, I have had other jobs in my life. I also have a lot of energy that I want to put onto this, this will be my full time job, it will be an absolutely honour to represent the south-west people and I will be humbly taking that honour.

“I also would like to say so many women, and some men, will recognise this. I have wanted to do this for a while but I had a small child and now my child is out at university and now I have all my time for the job and I think the people of the south-west should have a full time Assembly member that will be a full time Assembly member to not have other responsibilities and to focus on the job.”