2024 SW London Assembly elections: Interview with Liberal Democrat candidate Gareth Roberts

Liberal Democrats’ candidate for the SW London Assembly seat Gareth Roberts

“At the moment, what we do tend to get particularly from the Conservatives is opposition for opposition’s sake”

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.

Gareth Roberts is standing for the Liberal Democrats, as he did in the 2021 elections. As the Leader of Richmond Council since 2018, Gareth says his many years of experience in local government qualify him for the job.

As an Assembly Member, Gareth hopes offer constructive criticism to the new mayor, the bookies favourite being Sadiq Khan. Gareth says the Conservatives, who have comfortably held thee seat since it was created in 2000, have squandered the opportunity to properly represent their constituents.

During our interview, I asked what would Gareth’s constructive criticism as an Assembly Member look like, and how he would approach tackling issues such as the shoplifting epidemic in Chiswick.

Read my interview with Gareth below.

The Chiswick Calendar’s interview with Gareth Roberts – Liberal Democrats

Could you give voters a bit of background about yourself?

“I’m the Leader of Richmond Council, Leader of the council since 2018. We took control of the council then with I think 39 councillors and we held control of the council in 2022. We now have 49 out of the 54 councillors on the council.

“Local government experience, good local government background and similar platform to what we were standing on on before.”

And what is that platform?

“Well it’s experience first and foremost, whilst I would like us to have a Lib Dem mayor, I think it’s odds on that it’s going to be Sadiq Khan that’s going to win. If you go down Ladbrooks at the moment you can get 12 to one on Susan Hall, and 33 to one on Sadiq Khan, so yeah every 33 quid you put down you get a pound back, so it looks as though it was going to be Sadiq Khan.

“So what we really need for the London Assembly are people who are experienced politicians, people who are experienced in London Government people are experienced in leadership and people who will be able to offer challenge to Sadiq Khan, but at the same time constructive challenge. Because at the moment, what we do tend to get particularly from the Conservatives is opposition for opposition’s sake.

“You don’t get people who are wanting to work with the mayor at the right point, but also challenge the mayor when he needs challenging. From the Conservatives all you get is opposition opposition opposition, with very little nuance going on there and you can see that from the campaign they’re running at the moment.”

Which policies of Sadiq Khan’s would you offer constructive criticism and what would you have to say?

“Well the key thing at the moment that most people have said that I’ve been speaking to is crime and the current state of the police. The Met police, as we all know, needs reform and Mark Rowley is leading that reform.

“But at the same time I think we also need to make sure that MOPAC, the Mayor’s Office of Police and Crime is also reformed because all of these issues that have been happening with the Met Police have been happening on their watch and the question, is where has the scrutiny been? Where has the oversight been? Where has the challenge been?

“It seems to have been largely absent and, you know, I find it really quite astonishing that we’ve had Sophie Lindon in post as the Deputy Mayor for Policing for all of this time, with going on and she is still in post.

“It just feels absolutely extraordinary to me, I mean, you wouldn’t find the mayor resigning but you would expect there to be some senior heads going within MOPAC, as you’ve seen within the police, Cressida Dick for example had to stand down as a result of some of these scandals.”

I’m not sure whether you saw some of our reporting over the last few months to the last year, but there’s been basically an epidemic of shoplifting and it’s a nationwide trend. How would you approach that on the London Assembly?

“We need to ensure that the the Mayor’s hiring enough ward officers, we need to make sure that we give Sir Mark Rowley the complete support, which we have been giving in Richmond-upon-Thames, about his policy for returning to frontline neighbourhood policing. We need to ensure that we’re getting the the the ward officers recruited we need, need to ensure that we’re getting the PCSOs recruited, we need to give far more support to PCSOs.

“Because, at the moment, there is um this rather unfortunate perception, people call them plastic policemen and they’re not they have a they have a wide range of powers, they’re widely respected in the local area, they’re the boots on the ground we need to make sure that we’re getting them in place, we need to make sure that we’re getting the ward officers in place, the full police officers, and we also need to make sure that they’re not getting taken away from their local area with the same policy of abstraction every five minutes.

“You’ll find police officers from Hounslow, Richmond and Kingston will be taken out of their local area and sent up to Central London to police protests and all manner of things. That needs to stop, it needs to stop draining the resources from Greater London into the centre.”

What is your opinion on Ulez?

“Ulez was the right policy just at the wrong time. When Ulez was first mooted back in 2017 I think it was, the idea was that it was either going to go to the North and South Circular or it was going to go to the London Boundary.

“Those people who lived within the North and South Circular were going to get Ulez no matter what, because obviously they lived within both of the areas it extended to. Because it wasn’t this question should we expand Ulez, it was we are going to to expand Ulez where are we going to expand it to?

“So those people had about four years to prepare, they had about four years to decide how they were going to change their car, if they needed to car in the first place, they have lots of opportunities. Also within the immediate Ulez expansion area, the first expansion, they had really good public transport for for the vast majority of the of the first expansion area.

“Now when they expanded for the second time, people were given about nine months and it came as a shock, so people didn’t have that time to transition, they didn’t have the time to change.

“The scrappage scheme, which we always argued needed to go far further and be much more generous, it wasn’t a universal scrapple scheme until about three weeks before Ulez was about to go live. So there were plenty of people who changed their car who would have qualified for the scrappage scheme and now they feel aggrieved because they weren’t taken care of.

“It was definitely the right thing to do, to try to improve London’s air quality, but what we need to do is to bring people with you on journeys such as that, and the way in which the mayor handled the second expansion it was it was amateur to be frank.

“He should have really taken a look, found out what people needed, found out how it was going to affect people, deliver or give concrete examples of how public transport was going to be improved particularly with the buses before bringing in the next phase.

“If he given people two years, for example, to prepare I think he would have had a far easier round of it.”

The south-west London Assembly seat has been held by a Conservative since its inception, do you think this time around they will be unseated? What are people saying on the doorstep?

“Well, it’s been held and ignored for the last 24 years by the Conservatives. Tony Arbour spent very little time on his job as the assembly candidate and Nick Rogers has been invisible despite promising that he would be “fresh new voice”…

“People are saying on the doorstep is that they do want somebody who is going to champion them. They want somebody who is going to go to City Hall and fight their corner, that’s what they need.

“People are very angry with Labour, particularly in Hounslow, with the handling of the whole Gaza issue. We’re finding lots of disquiet about that. We’ve been very clear with our policy, Layla Moran’s been knocking it out of the park for the Lib Dems on this, we need to have a bilateral ceasefire, release of hostages and humanitarian aid getting into Gaza straight away, there can’t be any discussion on that, that that just needs to happen.

“People are finding Labour’s position to be weak, and not supportive of ceasefire. People are finding that they haven’t seen their Conservative Assembly Member. He came in just three years ago, as I say promising to be the fresh new voice, when you ask people ‘Who’s your Assembly Member for south-west London?’, they can’t tell you.”

So what difference do you think you can realistically make as an assembly member, especially with regards to what you just mentioned on Gaza?

“Well what we need to do is to ensure that people who want to be heard, are heard. The role of the assembly member is is relatively limited, particularly on things like Gaza, and but they want to have voices from their elected representatives.

“The Mayor will speak out on many many things which are not within his remit whatsoever, but seems to have been vaguely, I don’t know whether he’s been towing the the Labour line too much on this, but he speaks out on the EU quite happily at every opportunity, but on this particular issue what they would want is somebody who is is not going to be afraid to speak, who is not going to be trammelled within narrow party confines, somebody who will be their local representative.

“Whether it’s going to be on matters which are directly relating to City Hall, or wider issues. Because, councils and council leaders we often have opinions and are asked for opinions on matters which are not necessarily within the confines of what we do as councillors.”

And why are you a better choice than your fellow candidates?

“So first and foremost it’s experience. Been a councillor since 2010, so that’s 14 years of local government experience, six of those as a leader. I sit on various panels and bodies, such as the Royal Parks board for example, I’m a trustee of the Royal Parks. I’m one of the London Councils liaison members for MOPAC and the Metropolitan Police, which they used for the the London Crime Reduction Board, which Sadiq Khan scrapped quite recently, but we still have our voice in there.

“I’m used to tackling the difficult issues, this is what we do as a council what people do as a council leader every day. Whether it’s the cost of living crisis, whether it was standing up for residents during Covid, whether it was making sure that those people who need the support financially through both of those things got that support, delivering excellent quality school places, all of these things. It’s that experience, it’s over a decade within local government.

“Because as I say Sadiq Khan is going to win, barring you know an absolute miracle for Susan Hall to come up on the inside, so what people will need need what people will need is somebody who’s going to be able to fight him on his own level.

“Just letting people in who are going to go for Labour, Labour have been spineless in the last three years on the Assembly. They’ve said nothing, they’ve just been there like nodding dogs and they’ve just you know, nodded through everything through that the mayor has wanted to get through.

“The Conservatives have been ineffective because they just comment everything from a position of oppose, oppose, oppose what you need to have are other parties, other voices on the Assembly who will oppose when necessary, but offer that constructive challenge to make things better for London.

“I always go back to this idea that right at the very beginning of the London assembly, 2004 there were far more voices, it wasn’t just this binary red and blue blocks, with a bit of green and a bit of yellow scattered around the edges.

“There was I think at one point about five Lib Dems on the Assembly out of 25. At the very beginning, real change happened so you got things like the congestion charge came in, the Olympics was successfully bid for and delivered when there were more voices working together to make things better for London. That’s what needs to happen again.”