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Elections Strategist Tells MPs To "Calm Down" In Dash To Ditch Green Policies After ULEZ Row

Rishi Sunak visits Land Rover in Warwick announcement on an electric car battery factory (Alamy)

4 min read

Government and opposition parties have been urged to hold their nerve on the net zero agenda, after the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) row that characterised the Uxbridge and Ruislip by-election has spooked politicians into think voters will reject environmental policy.

But leading elections strategist Daisy Powell-Chandler told PoliticsHome both the Conservatives and Labour need to “calm down” after both parties signalled they would re-think their approach to environmental policies.

Downing Street has said it would “continually examine and scrutinise” measures “in light of some of the cost of living challenges”, while Keir Starmer called on the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to "reflect" on the emissions scheme expansion due to the "impact it's having on people".

“I think this is a moment for both parties to take a holiday," Powell-Chandler told PoliticsHome podcast, The Rundown. 

She felt that they need to "take a deep breath, calm down after their by-election fever and come back in September focused on the needs of the people they are seeking to represent". 

Powell-Chandler, who was an adviser to former Prime Minister David Cameron said that polling is "really consistent" in showing that voters are in favour of environmental policy. 

"I am going to choose to be an optimist and say as Europe burns and the UK consistently says that it cares about net zero, cooler heads will prevail come September,” she added.

Having worked on multiple General Election and referendum campaigns, Powell-Chandler suspected the suggestion the Uxbridge result could lead to a re-think on the government’s pledge to end all petrol and diesel vehicle production by 2030 was “completely nutso”.

While Downing Street says it remains committed to the plan, there is pressure from some Tory MPs and the car industry to delay the timetable for outlawing new combustible engines, and a debate over whether sufficient charging infrastructure for electric vehicles will be in place in time.

“One of the things that really upset me around murmurings that it might get scrapped is I actually feel the government has played this really well”, Powell-Chandler said.

“They've telegraphed the timelines well in advance, they are putting in place the ZEV (zero emission vehicle) mandate with targets along the way, they’re working on getting the charging infrastructure right, so far we've been doing pretty well.”

She said that while there is more work to be done, industry body the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders “entirely back the 2030 target, and they would be really disappointed to see it lost”. 

She continued: “It would be absolutely batty to invest a whole load of the government's money, our money, in persuading battery manufacturers and battery storage plants to come here, only to then say, ‘oh yeah, but we're not going to make it compulsory for people to drive electric cars’, it would be completely nutso.”

Cameron Smith from the Conservative Environment Group agreed it was critical the 2030 target stays in place.

“I'm really pleased to see that Michael Gove came back out and said so resolutely that what's not moving is the phase out of new petrol and diesel cars,” he told PoliticsHome. 

“That one is the most critical for our carbon reduction plans. If we delayed that policy, say by even five years, we're talking about releasing something in the region of 100 million metric tonnes of CO2, and of bringing that home to people that's about the equivalent of emissions from 22 million cars, or powering every home in Australia.”

Smith also hoped that once the summer “silly season” was out of the way the government would renew its focus on hitting its legally-binding target to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

“What I really do hope is that the Prime Minister, when he sets out his wider vision beyond his five points, does make more of a kind of pitch on the environment,” he said.

“I think it's really critical, it’s a big part of the Conservative record and voters want to hear it. Who knows what else the silly season will bring but I think as we move away from this, I think that will subside.

“The biggest debate in the Conservative Party is about how we get to net zero, not if we get to net zero, and there's going to be lots more of that on the way to 2050.”


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