Parties face challenge to balance green policies with polls success
Amid the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) expansion has provoked fury in outer London
LONDON mayor Sadiq Khan intends to expand the ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) to the whole of the city on August 29 – barring a last-ditch high court bid to stop it.
The scheme – first introduced in inner London in 2019 and separate from the two-decades-old congestion charge – requires more polluting vehicles to pay a £12.50 toll on days they are driven within its borders.
Amid the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation, the enlargement has provoked fury in outer London.
Labour had been expected to take the Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat held by former prime minister Boris Johnson in last week’s by-election, as dissatisfaction grows with the Conservatives’ handling of the economy.
But Steve Tuckwell, the Tory candidate, spearheaded his campaign around the Ulez extension, tapping into local opposition to pull off a surprise victory.
“Sadiq Khan has lost Labour this election and we know it was his damaging and costly Ulez policy that lost them this election,” he told supporters after winning by fewer than 500 votes.
Khan last Friday (21) defended the expansion decision as “difficult” but necessary, amid internal Labour rancour at the role it played in Uxbridge.
The defeat could have big ramifications within British politics and for the fate of environmental policies, as net zero and clean air targets collide with the more short-term priorities of increasingly cash-strapped voters.
YouGov polling last Friday found half of Britons now oppose Ulez-like surcharges in their local area, up nine points in two years, with only around a third voicing support.
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner conceded Ulez “was a problem” on the doorstep and it was “an issue that’s coming to towns and cities near everybody”.
But climate campaigners may take some consolation from Rayner hinting Labour could look to offer more financial support to cushion the cost of so-called green policies.
Khan has been criticised for not making a scheme launched alongside the Ulez expansion paying people to scrap older, more polluting vehicles, more widely accessible and generous.
“It’s a challenge of how we meet our net zero targets, how we get the jobs for the future, and how we help people to transition into more cleaner vehicles,” Rayner told Times Radio.
She added whichever party wins the next election will need to enable people “to do the right thing but doesn’t penalise them and charge them when they can’t afford it”.
“I think that’s the brutal truth of it. That it’s a challenge for both of us,” she said.