Backlash from ‘apartheid’ analogy sparks apology from Tory Councillor

The leader of Hounslow Conservatives has apologised for his comments comparing traffic restrictions in Chiswick with pass laws in apartheid South Africa.

Cllr Gerald McGregor, opposition leader on Hounslow Council and Homefields ward councillor in Chiswick, admitted he was out of line:

“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” he told The Chiswick Calendar.

“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” he said on Tuesday 9 November.

He was criticised for making remarks which were “deeply disrespectful” and “inflammatory” after he made the comparison in his column on W4 website on 31 October. He 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 take a longer way round to get to their destination, 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.”

Councillor’s comments ‘disgraceful’

Chair of Brentford & Isleworth Constituency Labour Party Cllr Salman Shaheen said the comparison was disgraceful.

“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 most hated symbol of the apartheid era

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.

The system introduced by LB Hounslow requires residents to register if they want to drive the most direct route to and from their house without risking a fine. If they do not 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’.”

Vote of no confidence ‘a waste of time’

Cllr Shaheen told The Chiswick Calendar a Tory source had informed the Labour party that Cllr 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 Conservative 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.

The Chiswick Calendar understands that Cllr McGregor is no longer going ahead with the vote of no confidence.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: LB Hounslow wins Council of the Year award

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