Chair of Brentford & Isleworth Labour Party attacks Conservative leader Gerald McGregor for “deeply disrespectful” comments

Chair of Brentford & Isleworth Constituency Labour Party Cllr Salman Shaheen has attacked the Leader of the Opposition on Hounslow Council, Conservative Cllr Gerald McGregor for his “deeply disrespectful” and “inflammatory” comments comparing traffic measures in Chiswick to Apartheid South Africa.

In his most recent column on Chiswick W4 website, Cllr Gerald McGregor wrote:

‘Chiswick residents are daily becoming more and more of a form of creeping apartheid, preventing people travelling, placing inconvenient barriers on through roads and becoming enraged by more and more impositions from an authoritarian council in City Hall and a local council based in Hounslow House’.

Referring to both Chiswick’s inclusion in the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and the introduction over the past year of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) which sometimes mean drivers have to take a longer way round to get to where they want to go, he wrote:

‘This is a new form of apartheid pass law with residents of Chiswick requiring a permit to go about their ordinary business if they wish to leave their zone’.

Cllr Shaheen said:

“Cllr Gerald McGregor shows he is as fanciful with facts as he is with metaphors. Of course the opposition will have its disagreements, and I welcome constructive criticism, but in comparing the introduction of Cycleway 9 and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods schemes in Chiswick to the apartheid regime in South Africa Cllr McGregor disgraces himself.”

Image above: Pass book; photograph Thulani Mbele

The Pass Laws in apartheid South Africa saw some 250,000 Black people arrested each year, unable to visit family or make other essential journeys because they were prevented from leaving certain designated areas. The laws became the most hated symbol of the apartheid era.

Black people had to carry a pass book or ‘dompas’, which was similar to a passport but contained more pages filled with more extensive information than a normal passport.

Within the pages of an individual’s dompas was their fingerprints, photograph, personal details of employment, permission from the government to be in a particular part of the country, qualifications to work or seek work in the area, and an employer’s reports on worker performance and behaviour.

What LB Hounslow has introduced is a system whereby residents have to register if they want to drive by the most direct route to and from their house without risking a fine. If they don’t register they are liable for a fine unless they take a slightly more circuitous route. There is nothing to stop residents travelling by other means.

The Mayor of London has extended to ULEZ zone to the South Circular, meaning Chiswick residents with older cars which do not meet certain emissions standards will be fined if they drive their car within it.

Images above: Cllr Joanna Biddolph; Cllr Gerald McGregor

Cllr Shaheen continued:

“A similar comment was previously made by his fellow Conservative Councillor, Joanna Biddolph, who previously cited comparisons between Chiswick High Road to Belfast during the troubles. Another leading Conservative was suspended after calling our councillors the ‘Brentford Taliban’. These comparisons are deeply disrespectful to people in South Africa, Northern Ireland and Afghanistan who have faced so much suffering”.

Cllr Biddolph wrote in a blog criticising the Council’s Streetspace measures in Chiswick:

‘Your group could raise standards across the borough. Instead it chooses to lower them in Chiswick, turning the character and attractiveness of our town, and neighbourhoods within it, into what one resident described as “Belfast during The Troubles” and another “the barricades of Berlin”.

A vote of no confidence

Cllr Shaheen told The Chiswick Calendar a Tory source had informed the Labour party that Gerald McGregor was planning to propose a vote of no confidence in the leadership of the Council at the next Council meeting at the end of November 2021.

“It’s an irony that whilst the Prime Minister is attending COP26 in Glasgow, the leader of his party here in Hounslow is sowing discord, using efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and improve air quality for all our residents to score political points.

“The Council is committed to being carbon neutral by 2030, but the Conservate leader – who should have a firm understanding of hot air – has chosen to stick his head in the sand over climate change.

“Cllr McGregor already knows his motion of no confidence is a waste of time. I have the deepest respect for many of my Conservative colleagues on the council and their positive contributions to meetings I have held with them. But their leader is more interested in playing court jester than working constructively with us to do our part in tackling the greatest crisis our world faces.

“I would urge the Conservatives to put these gestures aside and work with us rather than against us for the sake of all people in Hounslow and far beyond”.

Councillor Salman Shaheen is the Cabinet Assistant for Finance and Corporate Services and represents Isleworth as a councillor.

Cllr McGregor apologises

Cllr McGregor has now apologised, issuing this statement on Tuesday 9 November:

“I have taken some time to reflect on my remarks over the past week and would like to apologise unreservedly for the comments I made.

“The language is inappropriate and has understandably caused offence to residents and this was never my intention. My words fell well short of the high standards by which I try to conduct myself in public life and, while I will never stop standing up for people across the London Borough of Hounslow, I recognise that in future I must take more care with the language I use.”

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: LB Hounslow wins Council of the Year award

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