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Starmer clashes with Khan and ‘disappoints’ top donor by opposing Ulez

Labour leader tells cities there are ‘other ways’ of addressing air pollution

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Monday 14 August 2023 18:40 BST
Labour leader Keir Starmer and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan
Labour leader Keir Starmer and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan (PA)

Sir Keir Starmer has offered his strongest criticism yet of Sadiq Khan’s ultra-low emission zone (Ulez) for London – arguing that it was “disproportionately” hitting hard-up Britons during the cost of living crisis.

Making clear he was now against charging schemes on motorists, the Labour leader said on Monday that Britain’s cities should look at “other ways” to tackle air pollution.

As well as clashing with Labour’s London mayor, Sir Keir risked the wrath of a leading Labour donor Dale Vince – who said he was “disappointed” at the leader’s change of heart on the issue.

Despite having initially supported the £12.50 per day charge, Sir Keir urged Mr Khan to “reflect” on Ulez expansion to outer London following last month’s Uxbridge by-election result – blaming it for an unexpected Tory victory.

Asked by broadcasters whether Labour’s policy on clean air zones had changed since by-election, Sir Keir said: “Let me tell you what I want to change: I want clean air. I don’t think anybody in this country should be breathing dirty air.”

“What I don’t want is schemes that disproportionately impact on people in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis, so we need to look at options for achieving what we all need to achieve, which is clean air.”

In his strongest remarks yet, urging other cities to think again, Sir Keir said: “There are other ways of achieving this, so my driving principle is clean air, absolutely yes, but a proportionate way of getting there and looking at what the options are for other cities, other places doing it in different ways.”

But Mr Khan has insisted that he will stand by his policy on Monday, even if it costs him votes at the mayoral election. He told Times Radio on Monday that Ulez was “popular” in London even if many did not like it.

“I’m going to carry on listening to the concerns of Londoners, but we can’t kick the can down the road when it comes to addressing a public health emergency or tackling the climate emergency,” he said.

Keir Starmer and London mayor Sadiq Khan at odds over Ulez (PA)

Mr Vince, the Ecotricity founder who has given Labour £1.5m in donations, told TalkTV that he was “disappointed” by Labour’s U-turn. The climate campaigner also claimed that both parties had “rushed to judge” the outcome of the Uxbridge by-election being based on Ulez.

But Sir Keir Starmer has made clear that he wants to reverse Labour’s commitment to introduce clean air zones across UK – with a statement of support for the zones said to have been scored out from the party’s policy programme.

Clean air zones featured among Labour’s transport pledges in an 86-page draft policy handbook which was debated last month at the party’s National Policy Forum (NPF).

But after The Telegraph reported that the paragraph was scrapped during the forum, with a Labour source confirming to the newspaper that the policy had been officially dropped.

Aside from London, clean air zones already exist in a number of Labour-run cities including Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol and Bradford.

Rishi Sunak has sought to portray himself as on the side of “motorists” and create a dividing line ahead of the next general election. The PM has ordered a review into low traffic neighbourhoods and other plans aimed at curbing pollution in city and town centres.

London’s Ulez will be expanded to cover the entirety of Greater London from 29 August, after Mr Khan’s office won a legal battle against several home county councils.

Conservative Steve Tuckwell won the seat with a narrow majority of 495, far slimmer than Mr Johnson’s 2019 general election victory of 7,210.

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