Hammersmith & Chiswick parliamentary candidate: Liberal Democrats

Images: The Liberal Democrats’ candidate for Hammersmith & Chiswick Eraj Rostaqi; Liberal Democrats logo

“We are in a unique position to hold the next government accountable and that’s why people should vote for us.”

The 2024 General Election takes place on Thursday 4 July. The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is defending the Conservative Party’s record in government after 14 years in power.

As polling day approaches, The Chiswick Calendar has interviewed the parliamentary candidates for the newly created Chiswick & Hammersmith constituency, which covers most of Chiswick.

There are eight candidates standing for election. Sixth on the ballot paper is Eraj Rostaqi for the Liberal Democrat. Eraj says he is passionate about liberal democratic principles and is a firm believer in fostering a more fair and inclusive society.

The Liberal Democrat manifesto has some radical commitments. Some include: building 380,000 new homes per year – with 150,000 of those being social housing, introducing a sewage tax on water company profits, 90% of clean power by 2030. rejoining the European single market and taxing tech giants “properly”.

Some polling has put the Liberal Democrats on course to become the official Opposition in the House of Commons, nudging out a Conservative party still beleaguered by scandals and tarnished by 14 years in power. Labour are set to win a super-majority, if polls are to be believed. But is this good for democracy? Eraj says no, adds that the more Liberal Democrats elected to hold an incoming Labour government to account, the better.

The Chiswick Calendar’s interview with Eraj Rostaqi – Liberal Democrats

What inspired you to run as a candidate for the Liberal Democrats in Chiswick & Hammersmith?

“I’ve been involved in local politics since 2018 with the Liberal Democrats. The reason I initially joined the Liberal Democrats was because I was very much against Brexit and thought the country was heading in the wrong direction at the time. Things unfortunately didn’t go our way but even since then things have deteriorated.

“The Tory government has managed to damage this country in every respect. From our relationship with the European Union, to public services, to our standing globally. So I felt a sense of duty that I had to stand up for the people in this constituency and for the people across the country.”

So the Lib Dems want to rejoin the single market. How has leaving the single market damaged businesses and residents in Hammersmith & Chiswick. How will rejoining help?

“I think it’s very evident how bad leaving the European Union has been for the the UK. We’ve lost over 2 million jobs across the country. For every person in the country, Brexit has cost every person in this country about £2000 per year. Specifically in London we have lost 300,000 jobs.

“Many of my friends, I used to work in financial services so I know many people who’s jobs have been moved to different parts of the European Union because we left.

“It’s costing every individual who lives in London £3400 and the cost to the London economy has been huge. By recent estimates, Brexit has damaged the economy by about 7%. So we’ve lost 7% of growth to a decision that was based on complete lies and fabrications of what our relationship with the EU is.

“It is very damaging… We’ve seen even recently the costs of exporting to the European Union has gone up through the roof, because now every business has to do extra paperwork, ensure that they meet all kinds of regulations, and that costs a lot of money. On average businesses spend about £200,000 on this specific part of their business, which obviously makes them less competitive compared to the EU. So it’s been hugely damaging to this country.”

Another thing that’s been damaging to the UK was the period of austerity that we had post 2010, the Liberal Democrats were obviously part of the coalition government which introduced austerity measures. How would the Lib Dems reconcile that legacy with the current promises of increased public spending and welfare reforms?

“I think we have to acknowledge that couldn’t deliver the promises we made at the time. Especially with tuition fees which has been very damaging to us. But as a junior partner in a coalition, you have to make difficult decisions and you have to prioritise certain policies which impact a larger number of people than just students.

“As a consequence of that, we couldn’t deliver for students and we had to give up some of our policies against austerity in order achieve bigger issues that was concerning to most people. Of course we still hear about that on canvassing when we talk to people, they bring that up. Our policy is given that it has been so damaging to us, we will not make any promises that we can’t deliver this time around.

“Especially for students we are promising to bring back grants to students from low-income families, so that would in some ways help those students who cannot pay the tuition fees to go to university.

“We’ve taken a lot of lessons from that and we want to ensure that doesn’t happen again.”

Critics, or perhaps the Labour Party, would say that given the current economic climate, large spending pledges such as the £27bn that the Lib Dems have pledged is not realistic. Where would the money come from and where it come from without overburdening taxpayers?

“We have a very fully costed manifesto. It does not affect the average person in this country, what we are planning to do is reverse Conservative cuts to bank taxes because as soon as Liz Truss came in she gave the banks tax breaks, she gave the bankers tax breaks. So that’s something that we will reverse.

“We want to reform capital gains tax fairly which will raise about £5bn so we can use that for the NHS. A reverse on bank taxes will raise roughly £4.2bn and these are kind of the conservative numbers that we’re using because we are planning on potentially raising more.

“Oil and gas companies, for example, are sitting on the profits they made during Covid. We’re planning to tax that which will potentially raise about £2bn. We want to tax the digital companies, increase from 2% to 6%, because we believe that they’re not paying their fair share of tax. That could potentially raise another £2bn.

“For example, buy back, a lot of companies, most of the profit is them buying their own shares back which kind of distorts the taxes that they pay so that’s kind of a tax-saving scheme they’re using. We want to tax that at about 4%. We also want to tax the sewage companies who are dumping the sewage in the rivers and generally make the taxes much more fair for people by closing loopholes which are obviously not available to most normal people.”

Thank you. So one of your pledges is free personal care in England, how do you think this will benefit the elderly and vulnerable in Hammersmith & Chiswick?

“We’re promising to give elderly and disabled people free personal care because we know those are the most vulnerable people who need it the most. It’s based on some of the models that we were using in Scotland which has even very successful. There are some elements about eligibility and that side of it which need to be looked at, but our plan is to firstly give people who need the help the most free personal care.

“From there, once we are able to get the economy growing, then we can expand that into other areas. We’re also trying to help the carers, the people who look after the vulnerable, elderly and disabled people to give them the support that they need because the government has been ignoring them for a long time. That’s the plan step by step.”

How will investment directly improve services and infrastructure in the constituency?

“Well one of the main things which was brought up during the hustings as well was I think Charing Cross hospital.

“Suddenly the Tories found money from somewhere that they’re promising to invest. They’ve consistently pushed back the plan to renovate the hospital for the past decade and now even if they just paint the room, they say that’s part of the investment there are certain requirements that need to be done anyway, it’s not a big refurbishment.

“What we are planning to do is we want to invest, for example specifically for cancer patients we want to upgrade the toolkits, such as with radiography machines and any other machines which are quite old so the cancer patients can have the best care that they need.

“That’s part of the £9bn we plan to invest in the NHS that will affect people directly in Hammersmith & Chiswick.”

So, also in the manifesto is recognising trans and non-binary identities in law as well as banning conversion therapy and just generally supporting trans rights. The Liberal Democrats is probably the outlier in the major political parties in supporting trans rights explicitly. Many LGBT+ people will welcome this, why do you think the debate has gotten so divisive in recent years and are you proud to support trans and non-binary people?

“Of course we are proud to support trans and non-binary people as part of the tenets of the Liberal Democrats. We believe we should support people, their rights, individual rights.

“I think the reason it has become so toxic it that… politicians always need something to polarise people to one way or another to vote. Right-wing politicians are using this as an issue to gain some votes from people who are obviously not comfortable with this specific topic.

“We’ve seen that during the hustings, somebody was quite passionate about women’s rights” The key issue is that we have this conversation quite open and frank with people and not shy away from discussing it. By shutting these kinds of conversations down we’re kind of creating a vacuum for the extremist right-wing politicians to come in and take advantage of that to create more polarisation, damage and poison to the conversation.

“That’s one of the reasons it has become so toxic because we’re not to have open debates and conversations, as well as address the issues and conflicts within both within trans rights and women’s rights and have that as proper public discussion so we can find a way of dealing with it rather than leaving it to exploitation by right-wing politicians.”

I do think that there is an inherent disconnect between the two though. A lot of people say on the “gender critical” side deny the existence of trans identities entirely, do you not think that’s an inherent conflict that can’t be resolved sometimes and you choose a side whether that be transgender people or the gender critical side?

“I think there’s always, when there’s something new, a topic of discussion which is quite emotive at times.. it always is difficult to discuss things. We’ve done the same with gay rights for example and gay marriage. All of these topics have been very critical and very controversial topics at the time. But now it’s been normalised and every body has accepted it.

“We should approach the trans issue with the same focus and the same openness to get people to discuss it. The more we discuss it the less mysterious they become and the more people understand about it and they learn the difficulties off trans and non-binary people and why they’ve chosen to go a certain route.

“You don’t wake up in the morning and say you know what I’m deciding to become a man or a woman. It’s something that is a very difficult decision for a lot of people to do because of obvious difficulties with the social pressure and the physical side of it. There’s something lot of people don’t know about, so the more we discuss it the more it will become acceptable, rather than just leaving it to  the extreme elements in society.”

Great thank you. So let’s move onto the environment, the Lib Dems have set the target to achieve net zero by 2045, some might say that’s a bit too late who want to reach it a bit earlier. What specific plans to you have to support business and residents contributing to this goal and how important is the environment as a priority to the Lib Dems.

“The environment is on one of our top priorities. We have chosen 2045 not because we don’t want to achieve this earlier than that but because we believe it’s a bit, it could be, it is difficult to push people to especially in this current economic climate to make severe cuts to the way they live their lives and put even more pressure on them by putting the prices up.

“We will obviously try to achieve it as soon as we can, we’re planning to produce 90% of our electricity from reenable resources by 2030 which is a 68% reduction in our carbon emissions as part of our commitment to the Paris Agreement.

“More on the practical side, we want to upgrade people’s homes not only to help people with their carbon emissions but to help them with the cost of living for example. That would allow them to live in a house that is 100 years old. The you turn the heating off in a house like this in the winter and leave it on for an hour until its warm, in an hour the house is cold again. Turning the heating on again creates more pollution, more carbon dioxide. It’s essential we help people to insulate their homes…

“… We want to build our economic policy for growth around clean energy and clean and secure jobs which is an incentive for people to adopt clean energy policies of the government. Investing more in tidal wave, in solar panels, in wind energy. This kind of thing will help us achieve our practical goals potentially earlier.”

With the “rooftop solar revolution” as its quoted in the manifesto, can you elaborate on how that would be implemented in urban areas like Hammersmith & Chiswick?

“There’s certain schemes we have introduced in the past few years by the government but they’ve gone back on it. I for example, I live in a flat, there were a number of times I wanted to put solar panels on our roof but as soon as we’d reach out to these companies they’d say, ‘oh you live in a flat so we’re not clear whether we can use one of the government schemes to help you with that’. So that’s one place we can actually make a big impact because a lot of people live in flats. If we make that more clear, we could help a lot of people like myself to use some of those schemes to put solar panels on our roof.

“Another thing that would encourage people to put solar panels on their roof is by buying the excess electricity they produce at a fair price and putting back to the national grid. Currently they can’t sell it to them and it’s not really worthwhile selling the excess back to the national grid. Which is a big incentive to actually a big incentive to invest some of the money to begin with, the initial capital that’s requited.

“So those are the areas that would help people in Hammersmith & Chiswick as well as elsewhere to adopt this revolutionary step.”

Obviously housing is a big issue especially in London, what solutions are the Lib Dems offering to fix the social housing crisis. Rents have also spiralled out of control in the last decade, are rent controls something the Lib Dems would support?

“Rent controls specifically are not one of our policies. But the reasons we are saying there is so much pressure on the rental market is because houses have become so expensive that people can’t buy them, so that pushes some from buying a house not being able to afford a house to live in and into the rental market and because we are not building enough, there’s not enough supply on the rental market side.

“It’s much more difficult for people to get a place and much more difficult for people to stay in once place for long-enough. Of Cours there are some landlords that exploit that. For that reason we want to ban no-fault evictions in this country. I’ll give you an example, my own friends have been asked to pay up to £200-£300 extra after their contract has run out. They can’t afford it so the landlord is asking them to leave even though they’ve done everything they can to be the best tenant possible.

“The other thing we want to do is to introduce a minimum of three year contracts for renters. The UK is a very unique place in Europe at least that has very short-term yearly contracts. Most places like Italy, France, Germany, the contracts are much longer. People want to stay in places for much longer, ten years, 15 years. We want to introduce a minimum of three years to introduce some stability for people to live in areas.

“Especially for younger families, after one year if they can’t afford the demands of the landlord then they have to leave and find another place and if they can’t they have to leave and take their child out of this cool and take them into another school. We want to tackle all of that.

“On the housing side, consecutive governments have promised they would build that many number of houses, this many number of houses, but they’ve all failed. Both the Labour Party and the Tories continually failing to build the houses they were promising. We as the Liberal Democrats are promising 380,000 houses per year, which is the largest of any part currently and we want 150,000 of that to be social housing so people in low-incomes can use that to take some of the pressure off the rental market.

“We also need to put more emphasis in building more housing and building more new cities in fact. Similar to the ones we’ve built in the past, the green cities where the land is available. There’s a lot of talk about green lands and people don’t want to develop green lands but most of these lands are not diversely important lands that you can actually build on. It’s mostly Tory politicians who don’t like to see houses built near where they take their dogs for a walk.

“The fact that you build a house is not in itself in fact enough. You have to build infrastructure around, you have to build hospitals nearby, you have to build roads which requires big investment. We are committed to all of that. Some of the councils we lead for example Kingston have delivered more than the government target for housing in the past years, so it is possible if there is a political will.”

I just have one question as we have gone over a little bit, why should voters choose the Liberal Democrats and not another party?

“We have the best policies. I understand there are a lot of people who like green policies, I like green policies. You need to find the right balance and how that will affect the impact of the finances of this country. We’ve found the right balance, we are fully costed.

“The Green Party for example, the Institute for Fiscal studies said their numbers are too large. They’d have to raise taxes on ordinary people, something we should be trying to avoid.

“Specifically in Hammersmith & Chiswick, the Labour Party is going to be the next government. It’s just a question of the majority they will win with. We’ve established that and we’ve over the past few years any party with a super-majority is not good for a democracy. You need opposition parties to have some degree of strength to hold the government accountable. The more seats for the Liberal Democrats, the more we can hold the Labour government accountable.

“The Tories don’t do accountability as we have seen in the past 14 years, even now every day there is a new scandal. We are in a unique position to hold the next government accountable and that’s why people should vote for us.”