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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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Labour MP Says ULEZ Is A "Useful Scapegoat" After Narrow Tory Win In Uxbridge

New Uxbridge MP Steve Tuckwell (alamy)

4 min read

Sadiq Khan's proposed extension of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) is widely considered to be the reason that Labour failed to take Boris Johnson's former seat of Uxbridge and Ruislip from the Conservatives at Thursday's by-election, leading to concern about the policy's future, and how it could affect Labour MPs in London at the next general election.

The ULEZ zone expansion, which will bring all of greater London into the scheme which charges drivers driving non-ULEZ compliant vehicles £12.50 to enter the area in their vehicles, has defined the campaign in Uxbridge. Conservative campaigners specifically highlighted the Labour London mayor's policy, which has been a key concern among constituents in the area. 

The result was a stark contrast to Labour's win in Selby and Ainsty, where a by-election also took place, and the party was able to overturn a majority of more than 20,000.

"Sadiq Khan has lost Labour this election," Steve Tuckwell, the new Conservative MP said in his victory speech on Friday morning.

"We know that it was his damaging and costly ULEZ policy that lost them this election."

Labour leader Keir Starmer, who along with Danny Beales, the party's candidate for the seat, continued to distance himself from Khan's policy in the wake of his party's failure to win the target seat. “We’ve got to look at the result," he said. "The mayor needs to reflect."

But a number of Labour figures have expressed concern over the focus on ULEZ as the cause of Labour's failure to pick up the seat both in terms of the future of the environmental policy, and how it could affect London campaigning at the next general election, which is expected to take place in 2024.

One Labour MP told PoliticsHome they were "not feeling great" about the result and said ULEZ had become a "scapegoat". 

"What’s that line? About how anyone would be miles ahead?" they said. 

"It’s definitely shown that the Tories can't win an election – but not that Labour can definitively win one.

"Problem is now, that we all have different views in the party on how to go about winning one.”

They added: “And not sure it’s fair to blame it all on [ULEZ], but it’s a useful scapegoat.”

A shadow minister described the result as "disappointing" but not entirely surprising.

"'Would a general election give us the same result there?' is the question," they added. 

Another shadow minister believed that the issue "stopped some of our cost of living messaging getting through". 

"ULEZ was clearly the dominant issue in the campaign, offered a powerful platform for the Tories to campaign around locally," they told PoliticsHome

A Labour source in inner south London said the ULEZ row with Khan was the “next big challenge” for Labour, particularly when next year's mayoral election will be the biggest electoral test for Labour before the next general election.

“ULEZ is a big dividing issue," they said. "I don't know how representative it's going to be, but if the Tories now see that they've got a good wedge issue, that's what they're going to use. It’s probably the perfect thing for them to campaign on.”

They also expressed concerns about what greater hostility towards ULEZ from the party would mean for its green policies. 

A further Labour source told PoliticsHome they thought the policy could now be vulnerable. "I still think we are in a strong spot – but I could definitely imagine some Labour campaigners hoping ULEZ gets on the chopping block,” they said. 

Khan, however, continue to stand by his ULEZ expansion proposals. "It was a difficult decision to take - but just like nobody would accept drinking dirty water, why accept dirty air?" Khan told Sky News on Friday afternoon. 

“We know the ULEZ has cleaned the air in central London by almost 50 per cent. What about those in outer London? The other point is the government's given financial support to other cities in the country in their clean air zones. Why not London?"

A source close to Khan told PoliticsHome that winning Johnson's former seat "always going to be a struggle for Labour", playing down the role ULEZ played in the result. 

"Labour hasn’t won this seat for five decades and Tony Blair didn’t even win it during the 1997 landslide," they said. 

"Sadiq has always been clear that expanding the ULEZ was a really difficult decision, but necessary to save the lives of young and vulnerable Londoners.”

Despite the controversy over the policy, it is not expected to come up at the party's National Policy Forum (NPF) this weekend, where members and affiliates of the party will debate policies that could make it into the next manifesto – with no amendments made in the run up to the forum.

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