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Keir Starmer says Labour should ‘reflect’ on Ulez policy after Uxbridge defeat

Labour should ‘reflect’ on its support for London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) after it appeared to play a crucial role in the party’s defeat in the Uxbridge by-election, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The Labour leader was speaking about the party’s performance in this week’s by-elections at the national policy forum in Nottingham.

While Labour was able to overturn a 20,000-seat majority for the first time in its history to take the ‘true blue’ seat of Selby and Ainsty in North Yorkshire, it lost the outer London contest by a wafer-thin margin.

Conservative candidate Steve Tuckwell effectively made the campaign a referendum on controversial plans to expand the Ulez, which have been put forward by London’s Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan.

The policy imposes a £12.50 a day charge to drive vehicles that breach modern emissions standards within London – though it largely only applies to petrol cars made before 2006, and diesel cars made before 2016. A scrappage scheme is available for those impacted, though critics say it is not generous enough.

On Saturday, Sir Keir furthered criticism of Mr Khan’s policy, saying Labour should ‘reflect’ on the success of this tactic.

“In an election policy matters. And we’re doing something very wrong if policies put forward by the Labour Party end up on each and every Tory leaflet,” he added.

“The Tories are watching us. Looking for us to slip up. They’ve given up on government, there’s no record to defend. So next year whenever that election comes, we know how they’ll fight it.

“That’s the lesson of Uxbridge. All they can do now is oppose us, attack our plans.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with newly elected Conservative MP Steve Tuckwell at the Rumbling Tum cafe in Uxbridge, west London, following the party's success in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election. Picture date: Friday July 21, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS ByElections. Photo credit should read: Carl Court/PA Wire
Rishi Sunak with newly elected Conservative MP Steve Tuckwell in Uxbridge (Photo: Carl Court/PA)

Car-reliant outer London boroughs like Uxbridge have been particularly incensed opposition to his plan to extend Ulez – which currently only applies within the north and south circular – to cover all of London.

The move against Ulez comes amid a wider divide on costly green policies in Labour, with Sir Keir thought to be considering the future of Ed Miliband, his shadow climate change and net zero secretary, after drastically watering down policy pledges on green investment and new oil and gas licenses.

Following the Uxbridge win, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak vowed to double down on his Government’s plan and his five priorities, which includes halving inflation by the end of the year.

The Tories won Boris Johnson’s former seat by 495 votes, massively down on the 7,210 majority the former Prime Minister won less than four years ago.

Climate sceptic Tory MPs, and some Cabinet ministers, have urged Mr Sunak to delay policies targeted at achieving net zero by 2050 following the success of the Ulez-focused campaign.

Craig Mackinlay, chairman of the controversial Net Zero Scrutiny Group, told the Telegraph: “This is a wake-up call to warn politicians against anti-motorist policies across the entire country.

“We need to get the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars overturned at least until 2035, which is where most of the developed world is going.”

The Times newspaper, quoting an ally of the Prime Minister, said Mr Sunak is preparing to approach the lead-up to next year’s likely election with “more political edge”.

The newspaper said Mr Sunak is planning to focus on “divisive” issues, such as crime, cracking down on small boats of migrants arriving in Britain, and transgender rights, to claw back ground on Labour, with Sir Keir’s outfit well ahead in opinion polls.

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