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Starmer woos Tory motorists with tales of cars he loved

Sir Keir Starmer smacks his hands together in an impersonation of a car hitting a pot hole making an young mechanical apprentice jump.

The Labour leader is standing underneath a car lift to examine a vehicle that had lost a battle with a pothole at Grimsby Institute in Lincolnshire. Why did you apply for the job, he asks the young woman with a blue pony-tail. “I just really like cars,” she replies.

It turns out that Starmer also really, really likes cars, although he stops short of calling himself a Jeremy Clarkson-style petrolhead.

“I love driving, it’s been in my blood, I think, particularly if you grew up in a rural area,” Starmer told i after he’d chatted with staff. “I wouldn’t say petrolhead but I’ve always loved driving,”.

“For me growing up, getting a car was the single most important thing in my life. It’s what I saved for when I was a teenager; it was my first and proudest purchase.” That pride and joy was a black Morris Minor for which he paid £125 from a local dealer in Oxted, Surrey, where he grew up. “But, as the price suggests, it fell apart pretty quickly,” he says.

1953 Morris Oxford Traveller Must Credit: Martin Wood Image taken from
A Morris Oxford Traveller. Sir Keir Starmer’s version came complete with moss. Picture: Martin Wood

His second car, which the young legal student took to university in Leeds, was even more memorable. A dark green C-reg, half-timbered Morris Oxford Traveller from about 1962 which started with a crank handle. It was nicknamed “the hedge,” because it had moss growing out of it, he told i. “I was very fond of that car until it too fell apart,”

Now when he gets the chance, the Labour leader drives a Toyota hybrid and is keen to stress he is on the side of motorists. It’s another sign he is keen to take up space where the Tories considered they were winning the argument on which party is more friendly to motorists.

Eyeing votes from disgruntled motorists, Rishi Sunak has promised a new law to scrap the expansion of low vehicle emission zones in London, block blanket and low-traffic neighbourhoods and to introduce a new Backing Drivers Bill in the first King’s Speech should the Tories pull off an unlikely victory in the forthcoming general election.

The Prime Minister hopes the promise of a new law explicitly supporting motorists will appeal to voters, particularly those on the fringes of London where the issue of the Ulez expansion has become a major political battleground.

Sunak, who grew up in Southampton, says his first car was a Ford Escort. He now says he and his family use an “ageing” Volkswagen golf to get about in London, although reports have claimed he also owns a Range Rover and, at his Californian home, a Lexus and a BMW.

The Tories latched onto the pro-motorist approach after it was successful in keeping hold of Boris Johnson’s former seat in the Uxbridge and West Ruislip by-election in July last year.

Asked about Low Traffic Neighbourhoods which have enraged some motorists, Starmer told reporters in Grimsby that it was a matter for local authorities. As for 20-mph-zones, which Labour MPs have complained have cost them seats in Wales, Starmer said again “it’s a matter for local authorities” not central government.

He said Labour would “sort out” the lengthy queues for driving tests and crack down on insurance companies who are “taking advantage” of drivers with high premiums.

The European Union has notified Beijing it intends to impose tariffs of up to 38 per cent on imports of Chinese electric vehicles. Starmer said any future Labour administration would “look at” the bloc’s move, hinting the UK may follow suit.

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