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Starmer’s ULEZ U-turn further demonstrates his conservative instincts

By Ben Short

Labour risks becoming indistinguishable from the governing ideology unless it commits to bolder climate policies

Sir Keir Starmer has u-turned on Labour’s commitment to introduce ULEZ zones across the country, following the party’s failure to win the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election. This loss was pinned on the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who is looking to expand the zone. This would see residents of more car-dependent areas in London – including the aforementioned constituency – facing a charge of £12.50 a day, if their vehicle does not meet requirements. Khan and Starmer appear binary in their approach to ULEZ, with Khan claiming that “we can’t kick the can down the road when it comes to addressing a public health emergency, or tackling the climate emergency.” Starmer, meanwhile, has appeared to side with Sunak in opposing what the right-wing press have deemed “a war on motorists”, under the guise of sympathising with the poor.

Khan has increased reserves to mitigate the impact on households, by introducing a £2,000 grant for all households with non-compliant vehicles, a sum his officials claim is more than sufficient. Small businesses and those receiving child benefits are also eligible for financial assistance to avoid charges. Therefore, Starmer’s u-turn is, in my view, nothing more than a distancing from progressive green policy, drawing themselves towards Conservative greenism (should such a thing exist at all). The u-turns have been aplenty: with the £28bn a year in green investment delayed until the second half of the next parliament, rather than commencing at the start, as well as his refusal, a few weeks ago, to back the immediate cessation of North Sea oil drilling. This comes just two months after proposing an end to North Sea oil drilling licences. My overarching opinion on Starmer’s environmentalist credentials allies with SNP MSP James Dornan, who said: “Would it not make sense for Starmer to simply say ‘we’ll change nothing but we’ll be a bit nicer and less cruel than the Tories’?”

Scottish Labour have been singing from the same hymn sheet, looking to delay the introduction of LEZ by a year, prior to its introduction back on 1 June. This is despite backing the Greens in prior bids to have the scheme introduced sooner. In stark similarity to Starmer’s statements, George Redmond, Leader of the Glasgow Labour Group, pinned the delay on unnecessary financial burden on the most vulnerable. This is despite statistics showing that Glaswegians are 25 times more likely to die from illnesses related to vehicle emissions than being involved in a car crash. 

Labour, both in Westminster and Holyrood, must connect the bridge between the green policies they promise on one side, and implementing them on the other. Otherwise, they risk losing the trust of an electorate who risk becoming disenfranchised and, more vitally, exacerbating the climate emergency. 


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