Days before election, Tory turns her back on own party
Ahead of May 3 vote, long-serving councillor says the Conservatives are ‘caving in’ to developers
27 April, 2018 — By Tom Foot
Glenys Roberts: ‘The party has lost its way at all levels and needs to find some compassion if it is to thrive’
ONE of the Westminster’s longest serving Conservative councillors will not be voting for her own party, which she says has “lost its way at all levels” and too easily “caves in” to developers.
Glenys Roberts, who has represented the West End for almost 20 years, is turning her back on the Tories and voting for the Oxford Street single issue party in the May 3 local elections.
She said that for too long her senior colleagues had found it “easier to have a drink with the rich and well connected” than stand up for residents’ concerns.
Cllr Roberts told the Extra: “I will not be voting Conservative in the coming election. I’ve enjoyed my time as a Conservative councillor immensely, with all its challenges, and will be very sorry to go, but my view is that the party has lost its way at all levels and needs to find some compassion if it is to thrive.
“It needs a more hopeful message rather than rely on backward-looking platitudes. It needs to remember it is elected to represent everyone.
“Unfortunately, for the time being, some of the Tories’ strongest supporters in Mayfair have become disillusioned. Some have resigned their party membership. Some have written continuously to the leadership and tried to help by pointing out how things might be changed. They haven’t so much as had an acknowledgement, so goodness knows what the outcome next Thursday will be.”
Ron Whelan, Michael Dunn and Kevin Coyne of the Campaign Against Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street party, who Cllr Roberts is now backing
Cllr Roberts was mysteriously deselected with just weeks to go before the election.
She said: “I have no idea why I was deselected and no one will tell me. I received a routine letter which was a pretty shoddy way to treat someone after nearly 20 years in the job. Not a phone call, not a meeting, still less a word of thanks even from people I thought were friends, so I have no idea what’s going on.
“While not a single person in the council or the Tory Party has contacted me, many residents have written and some have said they are going to vote Labour because of what has happened. So a bit of an own goal, you might think, deselecting a councillor with huge experience and a local following just before a difficult election.”
Hilary Su, who was selected instead of Ms Roberts, has come under fire for a tweet that suggested homosexual relationships could be considered “immoral”.
Cllr Roberts said: “Of course I’ve never exactly toed the party line but that has never been perceived as a bad thing in the past and, indeed, when I’ve challenged policy they’ve often come round to it in the end.”
She recalled the council’s plans to introduce 24-hour West End parking.
“I reversed that and it brought down a previous leader,” she said.
Hilary Su (left) was selected to stand in next week’s election instead of Ms Roberts
“Then there was the mad idea to outsource the markets when there was clearly not enough money in that scheme for the actual marketeers.
“My inaugural Berwick Street Christmas lights, with Terry Gilliam and Joanne Lumley, drew attention to that folly and in the end the council allowed Berwick Street to remain independent. I was rather proud when one very senior officer told me to carry on doing what I was doing – I was the only one who cared.
“While everyone else was trying to make money out of the West End, I just did what I saw as necessary to keep residents living there with the basic amenities that sustain a community.”
She said government policy was to blame for dictating council decisions to rake in funds from developers.
Cllr Roberts said: “Accommodation for local police, caretakers, nurses, teachers and hotel workers has all been sold off for profit, small businesses have been priced out and we are seeing the social consequences.
“We have been given less and less money, which means the council is wary of challenging developers with deep pockets only to see them win at appeal. Certainly I think key cabinet members could try harder but many are more interested in kudos than the community. It’s easier to have a drink with the rich and well connected than put in the enormous amount effort required to see fair play. And you do have to put in a mammoth effort to achieve the smallest thing.
She listed some planning appeal victories against developers eyeing up Rupert Street and Savile Row as personal achievements, adding: “Sadly I think we British don’t realise quite what a gem we have in London’s unique traditions and succumb too easily to the lure of short-term money.”
“I’m not sure any of this is going to be improved under the current leadership. We’ve had a series of personally ambitious leaders whose main focus is not necessarily the place they represent.”
On the Campaign Against Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street party she is voting for, Cllr Roberts said: “We have had so many public realm schemes imposed upon us after cosmetic consultation that the residents have had enough. One thinks of the road-narrowing schemes in Mount Street, Davies Street, Brook Street and Bond Street. The cabinet made much of the virtue of consultation only to cave in at the last minute to grab the funding. I fear this will happen in Oxford Street too.
“I fear there won’t be a blade of grass left soon. A senior officer turned to me when we were doing a site visit recently in Berkeley Square about yet another mad commercial scheme and said a lot of these trees should go.
“The council have mounted belated outspoken opposition to the Oxford Street scheme but I fear this is pre-election hot air.”