Susan Hall tackles Sadiq Khan over ULEZ expansion
Rishi Sunak narrowly avoided becoming the first Prime Minister in 55 years to lose three seats in by-elections in a single day.
In line with expectations, the Conservatives lost Somerton and Frome to the Liberal Democrats, as well as Selby and Ainsty – in a landslide 23.7 percent swing to Labour. So far so good for the parties vying to dethrone the Tories in 2024.
In Boris Johnson’s former seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip in West London, however, the Opposition candidate tempted just 6.7 percent of voters away from the party in power, falling just short of pinching the seat.
Victor Steve Tuckwell was quick to apportion blame: “The message from Uxbridge and South Ruislip is clear – Sadiq Khan has lost Labour this election, and it was his damaging and costly ULEZ policy that did it.”
The latest by Electoral Calculus suggests the Tories are bound to lose 265 seats at the next general election. But if Labour allow their Mayor’s hated ULEZ expansion plans to go ahead this Autumn, how many seats could they be sacrificing?
READ MORE: Angela Rayner slaps down Sadiq Khan after Labour loses key seat over hated ULEZ
After a recount, Steve Tuckwell won the seat by a paper-thin 495 votes
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The brainchild of Mr Johnson back when he was mayor, the ULEZ charge today consists of a £12.50 fee per day for non-compliant vehicles – typically pre-2015 diesel and pre-2006 petrol cars.
In 2021, Mr Khan expanded its reach to the North and South Circulars. On August 29, it is set to burgeon out to cover all of London’s boroughs.
Of the 73 parliamentary constituencies in the capital, 37 are currently affected partially or wholly by the zone. The expansion would impact them all.
Labour’s enduring popularity in the heart of the cosmopolitan city means most of these seats are occupied by their MPs. On the outskirts, however, 17 Tory-held seats – excluding Uxbridge and South Ruislip – will be up for grabs next year in the midst of the ULEZ fiasco.
If Labour achieves the kind of monumental swing it pulled off in Selby and Ainsty, seven of these are bound to go its way.
If, on the other hand, the party is only able to replicate its lesser Uxbridge and South Ruislip performance, this number falls to three.
In this way, as a result of the Labour mayor’s ULEZ policy, his party is potentially forfeiting Wimbledon, Croydon South, Finchley and Golders Green, and Harrow East.
Pushback against the plans in these areas is strong. Back in January, Mayor of Croydon Jason Perry said his council would do “everything it can” to block the project. Leader of Harrow Council Paul Osborn later echoed this sentiment, deeming the expansion the “wrong solution at the wrong time.”
Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ expansion, currently going ahead
But Tory peer and pollster Lord Hayward suggested the Uxbridge by-election upset had ramifications stretching far beyond, into London’s satellite seats.
He claimed: “ULEZ has implications for a string of marginals on the eastern side of London, Stevenage, Thurrock, Harlow, Dartford, Gravesend, so the Labour Party will be looking very carefully at the implications not only in Greater London but outside.”
Back in May, Gareth Johnson, Tory MP for Dartford, said the issue has been coming up repeatedly on the doorstep: “We’re finding Labour supporters who are not going to vote Labour because of ULEZ.”
The Conservatives currently enjoy a 35-point lead in Dartford, however, so even a major shift is unlikely to bring it within the Opposition’s sights.
In his victory speech, Mr Tuckwell said: “This wasn’t the campaign Labour expected, and Keir Starmer and his mayor Sadiq Khan need to sit up and listen to the Uxbridge and South Ruislip residents.”
Senior Labour politicians did not refute the new MP’s judgement – quite the opposite. On BBC Breakfast on Friday morning, Deputy Leader Angela Rayner said: “People are really concerned about how, during a cost-of-living crisis, they’re going to be imposed with a ULEZ charge that they can’t afford.”
Ratcheting up the pressure further, Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed later added: “I think those responsible for that policy will need to reflect on what the voters have said and whether there’s an opportunity to change.”
Mr Khan, however, has stood by his decision, assuring reporters that he still believed “the policy to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone is the right one.”
He said: “Four million Londoners are already benefiting. What about the other five million in outer London, where there is the largest number of premature deaths?”
Whether the move is the right one for the Labour Party remains to be seen.