Interview: Zoë Garbett, Green Party candidate for London Mayor

Interview: Zoë Garbett, Green Party candidate for London Mayor

I meet Zoë Garbett at the Route café in Dalston Square which, like the blocks of flats around it, is encased in scaffolding due to post-Grenfell remediation of the housing’s cladding. If you’re into metaphors you could recruit the scene as one for today’s Britain – a spectacle of backward progress that urgently needs turning round.

As a Green Party Hackney councillor for Dalston, Garbett has represented the area since 2022, when she topped the ward ballot. She also came second in the borough’s mayoral contest that year, a placing she repeated at the November 2023 mayoral by-election. This saw her party’s vote share hold up as that of Labour, victorious but damaged, fell. Now, she’s the Greens’ contestant in the race to become Mayor of the whole of London.

It ought to help her that she’s lived and worked in several different parts of the city. The daughter of teachers, she was born in Somerset, became a student in Cardiff and Bristol, moved to the capital garlanded with a masters in psychology and found work helping voluntary sector bodies in Lambeth and with the organisation of mental health services.

This was followed by a public health-related role with Barking & Dagenham Council, one she says she “absolutely loved”. This was in the period following the ousting of British National Party councillors from the borough. Garbett says she warmed to “amazing community groups” there and residents’ “energy around things they wanted to get done”. She found the Labour-run administration very community-minded: “It talked a lot about deprivation and poverty.”

Next, Garbett took a position at Barnet Council, then under Conservative control, where she supported elected members and worked on the borough’s health and wellbeing board and policy development. There, priorities were different: “We weren’t allowed to talk about homelessness and poverty.”

However, she thinks she made a difference to the commissioning of children’s services. “I worked really closely with parents of children with life-limiting conditions as well as SEND [special educational needs] parents,” she says, believing she helped them to receive the individual combinations of support they needed: “I loved it. It was incredibly intense but really rewarding.”

Mental health care work for children was, at first, the focus of her next job, which was with the National Health Service in north London. She went on to become an assistant director for health inequalities and communities. That’s the job she’s just left, through voluntary redundancy, in order to, now aged 36, concentrate on politics.

Garbett joined the Greens, the first and only political party she’s signed up for, at the end of 2013 or thereabouts. The party’s aims and ethos aligned with her convictions. “It was focused on prevention and inequalities, with climate justice at the centre of everything,” she says. “It was so exciting to find an idealistic group of people that could see our economy could be shaped completely differently to benefit people and the planet, and not just a small amount of people extracting profit.”

Amid the constraints of holding politically-neutral jobs, she hadn’t been a visibly active member, making her contributions behind the scenes on such as organising election campaigns. But soon she was having direct input into Green national policy, leading a review of its position on drug legalisation and regulation. By 2021, she was managing, in the words of her campaign website, “the manifesto development of the London 2021 election” for Siân Berry, who finished third in that Covid-delayed ballot.


Soon, her own mayoral manifesto will appear. Policy priorities are solidifying. On transport, Garbett sums up her plans as focusing on “affordability, reliability and the sustainability of the whole network” along with “supporting people to make different choices”.

She would look to swiftly reduce public transport fares for groups she thinks most in need of it, meaning the youngest and oldest ends of the age range. Concessions for under-18s would be extended to under-22s, and holders of Transport for London’s Oyster card for over-60s would once again be able to travel for free before 9am, as was the case when Mayor Boris Johnson introduced the card in 2012. That part of the concession was taken away under Prime Minister Johnson in 2020 as one of the conditions on giving TfL emergency financial support.

Garbett counters the argument that many Londoners over the age of 60 are either in work or comfortably retired with reference to surveys by groups such as Age UK suggesting that having to pay for early morning bus or Underground rides deters many older people from, say, keeping medical appointments.

The Greens advocated a “flat fares” policy in 2021, essentially meaning the zonal system of different prices for different lengths of Tube journey would be gradually abolished, significantly reducing the cost of such travel for outer Londoners. Garbett describes this as “a brilliant policy” but, indicating that implications for TfL’s budget will need to be considered, stops short of saying she will adopt it as a firm policy, specifying that it looks like being “more of an aspiration” at this stage.

As you’d expect, she places emphasis on “active travel” and would hope to ensure that “cycling, walking and wheeling is very accessible to people, and safe and enjoyable”. A long-time and quite long-distance bike-rider, she firmly agrees that the London cycling demographic needs to get a lot bigger and broader, growing beyond its core of affluent males, if the public money spent on building special infrastructure if to be justified. “It’s nowhere near representative of the population,” she accepts.

How can that change be achieved? “I think the more we spend on it and the better and safer we make it, the more people will use it,” she argues, stressing would-be cyclists’ concerns about mixing it on roads with motor vehicles. Better bike security would also help, she thinks, particularly have a bike stolen can put people off cycling completely. She describes volunteering at a pop-up bike workshop in nearby Gillett Square, calling it a scheme “really focused on low-income communities” and “meeting them where they are”.

Hackney’s strongly Labour council has been big on installing new Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. Garbett approves of those too, saying they have led to “a change in patterns of behaviour” but, mentioning buses, maintaining that “we haven’t done enough to make the alternatives as strong as possible”.

Greens on the London Assembly have continued to argue strongly for the introduction of a full, Londonwide congestion charging. Garbett describes the current suite of road-user charging schemes  as “completely unfair”. As Mayor, she would want to “review the whole lot in consultation in the first year and bring in a new “smart” system, complete with privacy safeguards, “by the end of first term.”


Garbett is a private renter who has moved home quite a few times, including within Hackney. “Being being a private renter, I really understand how insecure and just horrific the private rental market is. And being a councillor I hear so many horror stories about waiting lists and temporary accommodation, overcrowding, and people with disabilities not being able to get up and downstairs in their accommodation”.

She characterises London’s housing situation as being “beyond a crisis”. The national government could be doing more, she feels, and so could Sadiq Khan in the sense of being more vocal about abolishing the Right to Buy, hastening the government’s long-promised banning of Section 21 evictions and lobbying for rent controls.

The latter is always a tendentious issue due to concerns about perverse effects, such as a decline in the supply of homes for rent and those in the greatest housing need losing out as landlords become more choosy. London’s Mayors have no powers to regulate the rent levels private sector landlords charge, but Khan set up a commission in 2019 whose report made the case for being given such powers to trial such a system along with seeking more investment in social housing. A future Mayor Garbett would want to set up her own commission, involving consulting with private renters themselves and looking closely at which method of rent regulation would work best for London.

She applauds Mayor Khan’s Right to buy-back scheme, launched in 2021, which has provided City Hall funds to about half of London’s boroughs for purchasing homes on the open market for conversion to “affordable” types, and gives Berry a lot of credit for that happening. She much prefers the “buy back” approach to demolish-and-rebuild estate regenerations.

“Developers and people who’ve got vested interests would like you to think that just building houses is the solution,” she says, “but we think it’s all about using the stock we’ve already got, bringing that back into the system”. The London Plan, the Mayor’s master blueprint for the city’s spatial development, is up for review – a great opportunity, Garbett believes, for “tightening up the planning and regulation around development” and generally improve the mechanisms within it for producing the homes London most needs.


On the Metropolitan Police and crime, the other area in which London’s Mayors have formal powers and significant influence, she reiterates the familiar Green priorities of closer ties between police officers and communities and changes to drug laws and their enforcement.

Garbett says she’s “positive” about the Met’s turnaround plan under Sir Mark Rowley and feels the service has handled the pro-Palestine marches in central London well and also been alive to the anxieties of Jewish Londoners amid the soaring number of antisemitic incidents.

In Hackney, she’s been trying to revive local ward forums and would like those to proliferate, perhaps especially among groups that ” don’t want to speak directly to the police” but from whom the police need to hear. She wants more scrutiny of the use of stop-and-search and police supporting local schools without being stationed inside them. She impatient with the belief that “if you just put more police officers on the street it will have a direct effect”. Greens, she says, “listen to people, recognise their experiences and that things are a lot more complicated”.

She’s very critical of Khan over the non-appearance so far of the report from the London Drugs Commission he announced in May 2022 to look at the effectiveness of national drug laws. Its whereabouts is somewhat enigmatic, with City Hall unable to say when it will appear when On London last asked. For Garbett, that is a “huge failure”.

She’s also disappointed that its remit was limited to cannabis, arguing that current controls on harder drugs do more harm. Labour caution about the issue seemed underlined last week when its London Assembly group failed to join the Greens in supporting a motion from Conservatives for drug-checking services to be introduced in London. Her goal is avoid “criminalising people unnecessarily”


As the 2024 campaign intensifies, so will Sadiq Khan’s message to Green supporters that, under the government’s newly-imposed first past the post system for mayoral elections, a vote for Garbett will effectively be a vote for his closest rival, the very right-wing Conservative Susan Hall.

Garbett sidesteps the suggestion that Khan might have a point, given that a brand new opinion poll has put her one nine per cent, behind Khan on 49 and Hall on 24. She does, though, proffer a broader definition of what winning could mean for her party.

The Greens have three Assembly members at present and moved up from two in 2021. All were elected in the Londonwide, proportional representation section of the Assembly ballot, and were close to being boosted to four. Garbett is fourth on the Greens’ list of candidates this time, and if she doesn’t get elected stands a good chance of being elevated to the Assembly later in this year if Siân Berry wins the Brighton Pavilion parliamentary seat and then, as promised, resigns from her City Hall role.

In any case, she says, “you don’t only take part in a race to win, you do it to share your ideas, and gain influence.” Most City Hall observers would accept that the Greens have made their presence felt on the Assembly down the years. Asked to describe what a truly Green London would be like, she doesn’t hesitate: “It would be a place where people feel that they are listened to and more in control of things in their life and see things changing and improving in ways they want – a place where you have more choice, where things are more affordable, where you feel that there’s a Mayor that is completely on your side.”

The elections for Mayor of London and the London Assembly will take place on 2 May.

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