London Mayor Sadiq Khan has apparently softened his stance on the controversial Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) scheme, which contributed to Labour’s recent Uxbridge by-election defeat. Khan’s previous staunch support for the anti-pollution tax has given way to a “constructive listening mode” after private discussions with Labour leader, Keir Starmer. The Sunday Times has the story.
Starmer and his shadow cabinet blame the Ulez for their failure to win Boris Johnson’s former seat of Uxbridge & South Ruislip in northwest London on Thursday.
The leader called Khan on the day of the defeat to urge him to fall into line. Aides for both men said the talks were “positive” and “constructive”.
Allies of Starmer claim Khan has now promised to review the policy in what would amount to a significant U-turn. A senior Labour source said: “It’s clear Sadiq is going to be reviewing it.”
Khan and Starmer are exploring how to limit the financial impact of the policy on drivers while cleaning up the capital’s pollution problem, according to sources. In a sign of the growing pressure on the mayor, yesterday he deleted a tweet about “bold action” being required to protect the environment.
The Ulez is due to expand at the end of August from the boundary of the north and south circular roads to throughout Greater London, requiring drivers of the most polluting vehicles to pay £12.50 a day in the midst of soaring inflation and a cost of living crisis.
The revolt over the Ulez expansion also poses questions over the future of other low emissions zones which have been established across the UK.
While London has led the way with such schemes, other cities have begun adopting them, including Birmingham, Bristol, Oxford and Bath.
Some MPs suggest the debate in both Labour and the Conservative Party over the policies could now lead many local authorities to pause plans to expand or introduce further schemes.
Labour has been divided over its green agenda for months amid fears among those in the top echelons of the party that its commitment to a plethora of unpopular, expensive green policies, could cost it the election.
For example, they see the party’s pledge to end all North Sea gas and oil licences as an “unhelpful distraction” after a backlash by the unions and industry.
One critic called for the policies, many of which have been masterminded by the shadow climate secretary Ed Miliband, to be junked, adding: “This is the moment Labour should ditch the green crap.”
Starmer’s most senior advisers, including Deborah Mattison, his Director of Strategy, and Morgan McSweeney, the party’s election chief, had predicted the Ulez would be a vote loser and have spent months locked in a bitter battle with Khan.
One party insider said: “At the start of the campaign, there was a lot of talk about it [Ulez] being scrapped. Of course, this time last year, Deborah was among those who wanted Labour’s logo to be turned green so I can understand why Sadiq is a bit bemused by being told that by her.”
The Uxbridge result saw the civil war being fought behind the scenes erupt into public with Danny Beales, Labour’s defeated candidate, saying the policy had “cut us off at the knees” and handed the seat to the Tories, albeit with a significantly reduced majority of 495 votes, down from 7,210.
Beales, who had been given permission to speak at the gathering by Starmer’s team, added: “This isn’t complicated. You cannot tell working people you are laser-focused on the cost of living … on the difficulties facing them … of making life easier … and then also penalise them, simply for driving their car to work. Ulez is bad policy. It must be rethought.”
The Labour leader ratcheted up pressure further when he told activists gathered at the party’s national policy forum in Nottingham: “We are doing something very wrong if policies put forward by the Labour Party end up on each and every Tory leaflet.”
Starmer also repeated his calls on Khan to “reflect” on the policy and specifically “how” the expansion plans are being carried out.
A senior party insider said: “Keir is entirely right to be focused on throwing all these dead weights off the electoral ship. There is no way Ulez [expansion] is going to survive, even if we had won Uxbridge.
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