Sadiq Khan's Ulez policy blamed for Labour defeat in Boris Johnson's constituency

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer calls on London's mayor to reflect on the contentious green scheme

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan's Ulez scheme is being blamed for Labour's defeat in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election. PA
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London Mayor Sadiq Khan has vociferously defended his controversial scheme to charge people for using their cars after the policy was blamed for a by-election loss in Boris Johnson’s old seat.

After Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged Mr Khan to reflect on the upcoming expansion of the Ulez (ultra low emision zone) and blamed the divisive plan for the party’s inability to wrestle the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency from the Conservatives.

“Ulez was the reason we didn’t win there yesterday,” Mr Starmer said on Friday. He added that “we’ve all got to reflect on that, including the mayor”.

But Mr Khan put up robust resistance to any change to his expansion plan, scheduled for August 29, which will lead to drivers in London’s outer boroughs being hit with daily charges if their vehicles are classed as high-polluting.

He said while Labour’s failure to take Mr Johnson’s former constituency in west London was disappointing, the Ulez scheme is the best way to clean up the capital’s polluted air.

“I’m quite clear though: the policy to expand the ultra low emission zone is the right one,” he told Sky News. “It was a difficult decision to take. But just like nobody would accept drinking dirty water, why accept dirty air?”

Steve Tuckwell, the Tory candidate in the area, won on an anti-Ulez campaign.

His opponent, Labour’s Danny Beales, changed his stance on the policy midway through his campaign, later suggesting it was “not the right time” to expand Ulez in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.

The Ulez expansion will mean that drivers in every London borough will have to pay £12.50 ($16.30) a day if their vehicle is classed as high-polluting. The fee would mean a motorist might have to fork out up to £4,560 a year to drive on the capital’s roads.

The changes to Ulez will affect up to 700,000 drivers, analysis indicates, and come into effect on August 29.

Four Conservative-led outer London councils and Surrey County Council have launched a legal challenge to thwart Mr Khan's plans at the High Court.

Christina Calderato, Transport for London's director of strategy and policy, told reporters last week that bosses at City Hall were preparing to roll out the changes while awaiting the outcome of the court's decision.

She said they have an “eye firmly on the prize of the air quality benefits”.

Susan Hall, the Conservative candidate in the London mayoral election, has pledged to “stop the Ulez expansion on day one” if she beats Mr Khan in the contest.

Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said the party failed to flip the Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat red because it did not “listen to the voters” on their Ulez concerns.

Mr Khan, who is trying to secure a historic third term in City Hall in next year’s mayoral election, said he intends to “listen to Londoners” following the by-election.

He said he would continue listening to people on issues such as “air pollution, climate change or the support they need to make that transition” to avoid Ulez fees.

Mr Starmer called on Mr Khan to "reflect" on his vision for Ulez to be implemented across the capital.

Asked if by "reflect" he mean the scheme should be scrapped, the Labour leader said: “We’ve got to look at the result [of the by-election]. The mayor needs to reflect. And it’s too early to say what should happen next.”

The win in Uxbridge was the one bright spot for the Tories, who otherwise took a drubbing in the by-elections. The ruling party lost their 19,000-vote majority in the south-western English seat of Somerton and Frome, with the Liberal Democrats winning. In Selby and Ainsty in Yorkshire, the Tories saw their 20,000 majority wiped out by the Labour Party, which waon by 4,000 votes. Both seats

Political researchers said the result in the west London by-election, which the Tories won by 495 votes, may not be indicative of national voting trends because Ulez is such a strong issue for locals.

Prof Tony Travers of the London School of Economics’ department of government said: “It looks as if some number of around 10 percentage points of the vote didn’t swing because of Ulez.”

He said Labour will be thinking “long and hard” about the Ulez policy before next year’s general election, when they will try to win seats in other outer London boroughs.

The next nationwide poll is expected to be held next year.

“Politicians who underestimate the power of the car – and the use of cars and the freedom that cars bring and as a driver of votes – do so at their peril,” Prof Travers said.

Updated: July 21, 2023, 3:50 PM