Starmer holds talks with London mayor as he blames Ulez for Uxbridge defeat

Starmer holds talks with London mayor as he blames Ulez for Uxbridge defeat

Sir Keir Starmer has blamed Sadiq Khan’s charge on polluting vehicles for Labour’s narrow defeat in Boris Johnson’s old seat but said the party stands by its green pledges.

The Labour leader said he had spoken to the London mayor about the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) as he called for reflection on “how” the expansion plans are being carried out.

Labour saw success in Thursday’s three by-elections, overturning a huge 20,000 Conservative majority in Selby and Ainsty.

The swing of almost 24 percentage points was the second largest produced by Labour at a by-election since 1945 and ranks on a scale similar to those seen under Sir Tony Blair’s leadership ahead of his 1997 landslide victory.

The win in North Yorkshire has fuelled party hopes that it can win a majority at next year’s likely general election, a victory that looked improbable after 2019’s dire results.

But its failure to overturn a 7,000 majority in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Mr Johnson’s former seat, has seen Labour publicly question Mr Khan’s proposals to extend Ulez to all London boroughs.

The Labour incumbent in City Hall plans next month, pending a court challenge, to widen the £12.50 daily charge for cars which fail to meet emissions standards to beyond the capital’s north and south circular roads.

Sir Keir said on Saturday that the “historic win” in Selby showed his strategy was “working”.

But he said lessons would have to be learned from the loss in Uxbridge, where the party reduced the Tory majority from 7,200 to 495 votes.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that Ulez was the reason that we lost the election in Uxbridge,” Sir Keir told broadcasters during a visit to Shefford in Bedfordshire.

“And I have said we should reflect on this, including the mayor. I have spoken to him as you would expect, and so there will be that reflection.”

The Opposition leader, asked whether Labour’s green policies would be under review, said there would be no scaling back but that consideration was required as to how policies were enacted.

It comes after Labour last month altered its flagship pledge to invest £28 billion a year in a green energy transition, saying it would ramp up spending rather than hit the sum in the first year of a Labour government due to the state of public finances.

Sir Keir said: “I think when it comes to green commitments, it is not a question of whether they should be done – of course they need to be done.

“It is how they are done, so there is a discussion to be had about that.”

Earlier on Saturday, Sir Keir told Labour’s national policy forum in Nottingham that there was “something very wrong” when a party policy was on “each and every Tory leaflet”.

According to the HuffPost website, Labour’s Uxbridge candidate Danny Beales told the forum that Ulez’s expansion “cut us off at the knees”.

During the campaign Mr Beales called for the charge extension to be delayed as the Tory candidate — and now a newly elected MP — Steve Tuckwell painted the vote as a referendum on the toll.

On Saturday, Reform UK leader Richard Tice joined an anti-Ulez protest in central London, where demonstrators chanted “Get Khan out”.

Mr Khan’s team defended the policy, saying nine out of 10 cars driving in outer London were already compliant with Ulez regulations and would not be charged.

Officials also pointed to a £110 million scrappage scheme that was recently topped up by City Hall.

A source close to the Labour mayor told PA: “It is a disappointing result and Sadiq has been clear he is listening to Londoners following this by-election.”

Following the Uxbridge win, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is facing calls from members of his party to water down pledges designed to help the UK meet its pledge of having a net zero carbon economy by 2050.

Mr Sunak, according to an ally of the Prime Minister quoted in The Times, is preparing to approach the lead-up to next year’s likely election with “more political edge” in recognition that “substantive issues”, such as Ulez in Uxbridge, could help the Tories to win.

(PA Graphics)

But Chris Skidmore, the UK Government’s net zero tsar, warned ministers against “playing politics” with environmental issues, arguing it could cost the Tories in the long run.

The Conservative MP told PA: “To do so would not only be deeply regrettable, it would be an abdication of responsible government that must put the lives and health of the public, and the opportunity for economic growth by investing in industries of the future, ahead of gamesmanship.

“It is also really bad politics, given that the environment and taking action on climate change consistently polls third in the issues that voters care about.

“Mainstream parties that don’t recognise the priorities of the public and are instead swayed by vocal minorities end up ultimately becoming minority parties in due course.”

While Conservative Party leader Mr Sunak avoided a triple by-election defeat, the ruling party saw heavy losses inflicted by voters in what were once considered safe seats.

As well as losing in Selby, the Tories also came second in Somerton and Frome, with the Liberal Democrats turning a 19,000 blue majority into an 11,000-vote cushion for new MP Sarah Dyke.

Sir Keir’s visit to the Mid Bedfordshire constituency, accompanied by his deputy Angela Rayner and shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle, indicates Labour has another scalp in its sights during a future by-election.

Tory incumbent Nadine Dorries has signalled her intention to resign although has yet to do so following a fallout over Mr Johnson’s resignation honours, accusing Downing Street of removing her peerage nomination — a claim No 10 rejects.

The Conservative Party has held the seat since 1931.