Sadiq Khan defends Ulez expansion after Labour by-election loss

Image above: Labour Leader Keir Starmer (left) and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (right); library images

Mayor of London urged to “reflect” on Ulez policy after losing the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has defended Ulez (Ultra-low emission zone) expansion after being criticised by Labour Leader Keir Starmer, who has blamed Labour’s failure to win the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election on the Mayor’s flagship policy.

Labour lost the by-election on Thursday (20 July) to the Conservatives’ candidate Steve Tuckwell by a wafer-thin majority of 495. Labour is reportedly referring to the contest as “ULoss”, after canvassers said ULEZ was a recurring concern expressed by voters on the doorstep.

The Labour Leader urged Sadiq Khan to “reflect” on the implementation of the Ulez extension, though he stopped short of calling for scrapping the policy completely.

Referring to the result in Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency, vacated by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson when he resigend over Partygate, Mr. Starmer said:

“We didn’t take it in 1997 when we had a landslide Labour victory. And Ulez was the reason we didn’t win there yesterday.

“We know that. We heard that on the doors. And we’ve all got to reflect on that, including the Mayor.”

Asked what “reflect” meant and whether the scheme should now be scrapped, Mr. Starmer replied:

“We’ve got to look at the result. The Mayor needs to reflect. And it’s too early to say what should happen next.”

Image above: Ulez signage in Ealing

Ulez a tough decision but “the right one” says Sadiq Khan, in rigorous defence of policy

Mayor Khan was unrepentant. Those close to the Mayor said despite this setback he is still determined to expand Ulez expansion in August. He told BBC News:

“The decision to expand the ultra-low emissions zone was a tough one, but it’s the right one. Why? Because every year across our city, roughly speaking, 4,000 people die prematurely.

“There are children with stunted lungs forever, adults with a whole host of health issues, from asthma to cancer, dementia to heart disease. So we do want to clean up the air in London. I think it’s a human right, not a privilege. Nobody puts up with dirty water. Why dirty air?

“We’re going to carry on listening, we’re going to carry on monitoring the policy, monitoring take-up. One of the reasons why I’ve announced a massive £110m scrappage scheme is to support those Londoners to make the transition. We’ve widened the eligibility to even more Londoners.”

Asked if Ulez would cost Labour votes in the mayoral election next year, or in the next general election, Mayor Khan replied:

“I’m hoping Ulez is expanded by the end of August. We saw in 2021 this was a big issue for the Conservative candidate … We’re listening to Londoners. Londoners are struggling through this cost of living crisis.

“But Londoners are suffering the consequences of air pollution. I’m quite clear; it’s the poorest Londoners who are least likely to own a car, [and to] suffer the worst consequences [of air pollution] – that can’t be right. It’s Black Londoners least likely to own a car who suffer the worst consequences – that can’t be right. This is an issue of social justice and racial justice.

“But I recognise there are some Londoners worried about Ulez. That’s why we’ve widened the eligibility and provided record support for Londoners. It’s a shame that the government hasn’t given us a penny of support towards the scrappage scheme.”