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Tony Glover is the Reform UK candidate for Poplar and Limehouse, standing in the 2024 general election
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Tony Glover on Palestinian flags, Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and housing

As part of The Slice Tower Hamlets’ coverage of the 2024 general election, we interview Tony Glover, the Reform UK candidate for Poplar and Limehouse.

Tony Glover is the Reform UK candidate for Poplar and Limehouse, a constituency which has been represented by Apsana Begum of the Labour Party since 2019. We spoke to Glover about Reform’s ability to represent the local Muslim population, immigration, and the prevalence of dangerous cladding in the East End.

Born and bred in Bethnal Green, Glover studied Sociology and Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London. He was a Conservative Party member in the 1980s but left when he became a civil servant working for the Leader of the House of Lords and later the House of Commons Chief Whip during Tony Blair’s government.

After leaving the civil service in 2003, he re-joined the Conservatives but left again when Liz Truss stepped down as Prime Minister in October 2022. He worked for the Energy Networks Association, becoming Director of Policy & Gas in 2012 until 2019.

Despite being a former member of the Conservatives, the past 14 years of government have been a failure according to Glover. From immigration and housing to Brexit and the cost of living, he believes the party has backtracked on many of its key promises.

We asked Glover what Reform UK would do differently if elected.

Tony Glover, why are you standing for office?

I’m standing for office because as Nigel Farage, our new leader said yesterday, we’ve all had enough. We’ve had enough of the Tories, we’ve had enough of Labour, particularly locally in Tower Hamlets, and indeed all the other terrible things that are happening in our country. People are not being listened to and I want to ensure they have a voice.

What would you say are the most pertinent issues facing Poplar and Limehouse specifically?

We do have a lot of issues in Poplar and Limehouse and across Tower Hamlets. We have a council and a Mayor who continues to be under investigation for various practices.

We have a disunited community. I’ve been out talking to people in some of the estates around the island, the Isle of Dogs, and you hear from so many people such frustration that nobody cares about them. Nobody’s interested in what they believe or feel or what they want and need, and I think it’s just a testimony to the failings of our political system so far and that’s what Reform is about.

We’re about listening and we’re about channeling the anger that’s out there on the streets, in a way that will produce reform and change and be something that’s constructive.

When we reached out to local residents in Tower Hamlets, many reported issues about housing, from unaffordable rent to dangerous cladding, and huge increases in service charges. How are you going to address these issues?

That’s a very good point about service charges and cladding. It’s a major, major issue, obviously. And I know a lot of people affected by that, particularly the cladding issue and that needs to be addressed by making sure that the people who are responsible, the big developers who the government and indeed the Labour party have been in bed with over the years, they need to pay. 

And that is something that we’re seeing evidence of some change on, but still people are left stuck with their homes and not able to move on, facing major bills. And leasehold, I’ve got a good answer for leasehold. Abolish it, get rid of it. We don’t want leasehold, we shouldn’t have leasehold. It’s a feudal system and I support strongly Harry Scoffin’s campaign started on the island, around getting rid of leasehold and bringing in a fairer system.

What is it about leasehold that you think needs to be abolished?

Well, one of the things is around the whole issue of cladding. That’s a good example of where people are facing terrible bills. Partly because the freeholders – the people that built the place – are not being held responsible. And they don’t have any control over how those bills are arrived at and how the work is done. You own your home but you don’t. You save, you get your deposit, you get your mortgage, but you don’t actually own your home and that is a terrible thing. So we need to move away from that and if that upsets a few fat cat-rich corporate freehold owners across London and other cities, well hard luck.

Last week, Nigel Farage said that he would be retaking the reins as leader of Reform and standing as MP for Clacton. Why was this an important moment?

He is a fantastic communicator, apart from anything else, he’s able to channel the feelings of a lot of people in our country. Richard Tice has done a fantastic job keeping Reform going, doing some amazing work, and being a great leader for our party. 

But Nigel Farage is somebody who can take it to that next degree and Richard will be the first to say that. That, I think, is going to be a game-changer. 

I predict that we are going to destroy the Tories and become the true challenger to the Labour Party when they form the next government. I think we’re going to have a massive impact. We’re not going to probably win the number of seats that we should do, but that just shows how unfair the system is. But we are going to have a major impact on politics going forward.

Last week on Tuesday, former Tory leader Michael Howard said that a vote for Reform is really just a vote for Labour. Is this something that you disagree with?

Most certainly. The Tories are done, they’re dead anyway. I literally just come back from being out around where I live, talking to people in my local area and the anger for the Tories at the moment is so great. Therefore, whatever Reform is doing, nobody is going to be voting for the Conservatives.

Frankly, the Conservatives have failed, they failed on immigration, they failed on housing, they failed on cost of living and they failed on Brexit. 

tony glover

Even a lot of Conservative activists I know are really, really angry and are not going to be working in this election, so I think that shows you just how bad things are at the moment for the Tories and that’s got nothing to do with Reform. 

In any event, what are we voting for? What have the Tories done in 14 years? What have they achieved? How do people feel better off? I am a strong supporter of Brexit, but have they delivered Brexit? No, they have not. Boris was a lot of talk but actually below the surface, there was no real delivery and so frankly the Conservatives have failed, they failed on immigration, they failed on housing, they failed on cost of living and they failed on Brexit.

Turning to immigration. If elected Reform has said that it would introduce a migrant tax, requiring employers to pay a higher 20% National Insurance rate for foreign workers up from the current 13.8%. The migrant tax won’t apply however to health and social care, one of the main sectors for migrant labour in this country, so will this policy really discourage migration and raise the £20 billion your party claims it will generate?

I think it sends a very clear message about the fact that our entire immigration system has failed and this is one of the components of a policy we’re looking at. Net zero immigration as well, combating illegal immigration – which frankly is a major issue in this part of London – and also legal migration. 

It puts an incredible amount of pressure on our infrastructure and you’ve only got to look at what’s going on in Tower Hamlets, in terms of that impact and the amount of building that’s going on and our electricity supplies and water supplies not being capable of meeting the demands of residents. 

So this is a critical issue and this is just a component of dealing with that. This is not going to solve it. I don’t think it’s going to solve it alone, it’s actually going to have to be around also controlling how many people come in. 

I was at the press conference where this tax was introduced, and Richard Tice said the big corporates have had it easy. They haven’t had to train up staff, they haven’t had to support domestic employees, they just import people. They don’t improve their technology so that they can deal with productivity and perhaps reduce the need for cheap labour, and therefore this is a way of dealing with that. It’s hitting them where it hurts.

As you say Tower Hamlets has higher rates of migration than any other local authority in the UK, how are you going to prevent the migrant tax from negatively impacting businesses in the borough?

I think that businesses in the borough should be employing people who live in the borough or in London or other parts of the UK, but particularly local people.

The levels of unemployment are quite considerable in this borough and there is a lot of economic inactivity, and a very interesting example is going back 10 years, when the Olympics was going on in the area. There was a lot of talk about local people getting jobs out of the impact of the Olympics on the local economy, and that hasn’t happened in reality.

I’m just going to take it head-on, this whole issue around the impact on particularly businesses in the food sector. Our fantastic curry restaurants that we’ve got – they should be training people in the UK to be chefs and do that job. 

We’ve got the largest Bengali population in the UK in Tower Hamlets, I’d love to see a lot of those people employed in that area so that they can be really helped economically, and indeed be part of what is a fantastic aspect of our culture, which is exported to people from other parts of London and the world.

Tower Hamlets has the largest proportion of Muslims in England and Wales at nearly 40%. But two weeks ago Farage implied on Sky News that Muslims are hostile to British values. Do you feel that Reform can adequately represent the Muslims in our borough?

The first thing is he didn’t say that. He said that there was an element within the community who were, and that was based on polling – independent polling that was carried out on the opinions of parts of the Muslim community. 

I have to say that I’ve lived in Tower Hamlets for, my goodness, 18 years. I was born in Tower Hamlets and then moved away, and my family and I have come back.

I love the diversity of Tower Hamlets and I have to say, before the current Mayor, Lutfur Rahman, we had a far more integrated community. I do actually feel now that there are parts of the Bengali Muslim community in Tower Hamlets that don’t feel as integrated as they did when I first moved here and I find that really sad, that actually really breaks my heart, because we’re all part of the same community.

I used to run a street party here with neighbours where I live and we used to bring in and make sure the Bengali community and our Bengali neighbours were part of it. That was something that was very important and I’m not sure that would work now because Lutfur Rahman has made it very clear that he’s not interested in integration. He’s not interested in representing the entire community, and I have to say Apsana Begum – in terms of the way she has been speaking about issues – doesn’t seem to me as if she wants to represent the entire community 

I understand from Labour party members that she’s not really doing her job and there’s a level of complacency and I fear that may be something to do with the fact that she doesn’t feel she needs to do her job because she feels that she can take for granted a slice of the community. And I mean, will she go to the hustings? She didn’t last time. Lutfur Rahman never does hustings, the other parties do. So that tells me something and I find that very sad.

A particularly contentious topic that divided our borough were the Palestinian flags and I saw that on social media you voiced your objections to the flags. Why was this an issue that you felt strongly about?

My big concern around this is that we shouldn’t be putting any flags up on lamp posts. I’m half-Jewish, my mother was Jewish. I’m not a practising Jew, I am a Zionist, I do believe in the state of Israel, and I’m very proud to say that. But having said that, I do believe in the two-state solution.

And I don’t think we should be putting up the the Israeli flag on lamp posts either. I don’t put it up out on my window, at the front of my house. And equally, I don’t think we should have across the borough a flag, that is not our flag, which is put up as part of something that a lot of Jewish people have told me in the community makes them feel very intimidated.

I have to tell you I did take some of those flags down around where I live the other weekend when they went up, and I had people coming up to me and shaking my hand and saying thank you for doing that. I’m talking to UK Lawyers for Israel and hopefully just as before, we can get them removed. We shouldn’t be doing this, we shouldn’t be creating this atmosphere, this is very intimidating. 

As a party committed to freedom of expression (Reform wants to cut funding to universities which undermine free speech), don’t citizens in a democracy have a right to wave a flag, on their window where they live?

Okay, they have a right to wave it and put it in the window, they have a right to go out and wave it, and they are doing that every weekend. 

They don’t have a right to stick it on public property across the borough, so that you go down the street and the whole street is covered in flags on public property, on lamp posts that are owned by the local council.

They do not have a right to do that and they need to be removed. In fact, it is against the law, as has been established by UK Lawyers for Israel, which is why when the letter was sent to Lutfur Rahman last time they were up everywhere, he promptly removed them within a day, because he was told it was illegal.

Moving on to Reform’s education policies. The party calls for more permanent exclusions of violent and disruptive children from schools. The party also wants to double the amount of Pupil Referral Units. How are you going to protect vulnerable children from being forced out of mainstream education to their detriment?

As someone who went to an inner London comprehensive school myself many years ago now, I was acutely aware of the impact of disruptive behaviour on everybody else within the class.

A lot of people, and particularly in Tower Hamlets, in state schools are disadvantaged to start with, and they need all the help they can get. We are not going to be helping young kids who are trying to learn and trying to do the best for themselves while others are being disruptive. 

We do need to deal with that behaviour, because in my experience and the experience of many people… the impact of those kids, the ones causing disruption, was really damaging to everybody else. 

So I think it’s something we do need to do. And it’s all right for people who live in posh areas and send their kids to state schools, but they’re just basically all just full of middle class people, they don’t get to experience that and they’ve got the leg up already to get on in the world. Whereas in other areas, that isn’t the case and we need to deal with that bad behavior to help the rest. 

In 2016 the University of Edinburgh found in a study that an excluded student is four times more likely to be jailed as an adult than a non-excluded student. What do you make of the criticism that Pupil Referral Units are a pipeline to prison?

The first thing is, it’s chicken and egg. Are they more likely to commit crime because they were excluded, or are they being excluded because ultimately their behaviour will lead to them being more likely to commit crime?

And I think that’s the question to ask. I think that the school should be able to discipline kids and bring them to a place where they actually realise and confront their behaviour.

I’m very much aware of the upbringings that some kids have had and the impact that has. I’m going to be absolutely honest and personal about it, my own father had that. He came from a very difficult background and he was left an orphan as a result of suicide when he was a very small boy. And the impact of that was that he was very badly behaved and he was a very disturbed person in many ways, and kids like that do need to be looked after, of course they do.

But it’s probably best that it’s done in an environment where they can be addressed more effectively and if you’re saying that all Pupil Referral Units are a failure, then that’s an issue around the performance of those units, not the principle.

Turning to the environment, you supported Rahman’s decision to scrap Low Traffic Neighborhoods, a traffic scheme aimed at removing through traffic from residential areas. Why?

Absolutely. Clearly, they had no impact on dealing with the challenge of carbon monoxide and in fact massively increased congestion. If you look locally, the impact of closing Old Bethnal Green Road and moving all the traffic onto Hackney Road was to slow down buses, was to cause much greater traffic impact and cause much greater problems for people who live in that area. 

It was a Tory policy brought in when Boris Johnson was splashing cash all over the place during the pandemic, as a quick publicity stunt. He unleashed huge amounts of money, councils were throwing money at any project they could possibly find.

A lot of them were not very well thought out and most importantly nobody was asked about them. Nobody was asked. I support school streets, and I support appropriate LTNs where they can actually have a positive impact. I actually live in a school street, I support that school street. I support what they did and that we now have a one-way system and it’s been really good. 

So I’m not against them per se, but I think local communities need to be asked about them and we need to have consultation and I’m afraid the last Labour administration didn’t do that.

When the Mayor did make the decision to scrap the LTNs, several leaders at various East London NHS trusts wrote to the Mayor, demanding that the LTNs come back, because they believed that medically, they were the best for the local population. Tower Hamlets residents are exposed to the fifth worst air quality of any London borough, regularly exceeding World Health Organisation safety limits. How else do you suggest that we combat dangerous air pollution?

Well, the LTNs that were introduced in Tower Hamlets increased congestion, therefore increased the impact within the surrounding streets, because obviously the traffic was stopped and not moving and engines were running and it was having an impact in that way. So knee-jerk support of something, without thinking through what is appropriate, is not a solution.

I’m sure those very same health authorities would also say we should abolish cars or we should just have electric vehicles or everyone should be on a bicycle. Unfortunately, say that to somebody who is disabled, who’s not able to go on a bicycle or cannot afford to own an electric vehicle, or [someone who doesn’t] have access to enough charging points to use an electric vehicle. They need to have a car, they need to have access to a car, so we are not going to be getting rid of cars.

We need to improve them, we need to improve their efficiency, and yes, I’m not against LTNs where they’re appropriate. You might not believe it, but I ride a bicycle and I used to ride to work every single day when I was travelling to and from Westminster. I very strongly support the use of cycling, it’s a fantastic thing, but not everybody can do it. 

So I’m not against LTNs, I am against the way they were introduced here and the non-existent consultation. So great, let’s have consultation and look at new proposals, but let’s hear from the people. And let’s be clear, Lutfur Rahman won that election and that was his main policy, and I know a lot of people supported him because of his position on LTNs. 

I should say that Save Our Safer Streets, one of the pro-LTN campaign groups, is planning to take Lutfur Rahman to court over his decision to scrap the LTNs, saying it was an unlawful decision. Moving on I want to ask you, what do you think the mainstream media gets wrong about Reform?

I think we are perceived as just right-wing. That we’re – I mean I’m half-Jewish – but you know, white, late middle-aged blokes, I think that may be something.

I have to say, from my experience of being in Reform, that we come from a really diverse set of backgrounds. People have very different ethnic backgrounds, very different class backgrounds. [There are] a lot of people who were Labour supporters, people who were Labour activists, as well as Conservatives and even Liberal Democrats. So a very diverse group politically and also in terms of ethnicity.

I was talking to a couple today, who are of Vietnamese heritage, and they’re voting Reform and they’ve had enough with the mainstream parties. So the idea that Reform is just white old blokes is not the case.

With so many Conservatives choosing to join Reform, what would you say are your points of difference?

I think there are a lot of Conservatives who do align with where Reform is on a lot of issues. I do think a lot of Conservative voters in 2019 are in line with Reform and I think Boris Johnson conned them. I think he gave the impression that he was going to listen to their voices and he didn’t care. He was just a PR man and he was just there to use them and not actually listen to them. So I do think there are a lot of Conservative voters and Conservative members who are very supportive. 

But as I say, we get support from other, different political parties. We get people who are ex-Labour, there are definitely people who are really angry about what Corbyn did to the Labour Party, and they don’t really think that Keir Starmer has made the difference to the Labour Party that he now claims he is doing by trying to sacrifice various people like Diane Abbott, who’s been an MP since I was at university. So it’s not just Conservatives.

And finally on a more light-hearted note, as someone who was born in Bethnal Green, what’s your favourite classically East End place to eat or drink?

Well I will be honest with you, I do love a curry, so I love going down the Standard Balti, down Brick Lane. 

In terms of where I drink, I live in Bethnal Green, I was born in Bethnal Green. I go to the Camel Pub which is just around the corner from where I live, but I also like going down all the other pubs. I love the one down Cheshire Street, The Carpenter’s Arms. Yeah, I do go to quite a lot of pubs.

But I also really like Spoons, and we don’t have a Spoons up here in Bethnal Green. In fact, I’m trying to think where we have a Spoons in Tower Hamlets. We used to have one on Bethnal Green Road. I’m trying to think of one on the island, [but] I don’t think we do, which is sad, because I love a Spoons. 

For more of our general election coverage, read our interview with Richard Flowers, Liberal Democratic candidate for Poplar and Limehouse.

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