Sir Keir Starmer has warned Labour must “learn the lesson” of seeing the ULEZ policy used against it following a narrow defeat in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election.
The Labour leader said there was “something very wrong” when a policy was on “each and every Tory leaflet” following attacks on London mayor Sadiq Khan’s plan to expand ULEZ.
The capital’s ultra low emission zone (ULEZ) which applies a £12.50 daily charge for the most polluting vehicles is set to expand across the city from August, pending a court ruling.
Addressing Labour’s national policy forum in Nottingham, Sir Keir said the Selby and Ainsty win should give Labour “every reason to be confident” ahead of a general election, but that the Uxbridge and South Ruislip result demonstrated that there “is still a long way to go”.
Labour overturned a 20,000 majority to win the Selby seat in north Yorkshire with a 23.7 point swing – the second largest produced by Labour at a by-election since 1945.
But prime minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives hanging on in Boris Johnson’s old Uxbridge seat has sparked debates within both the Tories and Labour on their green policy stance.
Khan should ‘reflect’
Sir Keir said: “Uxbridge demonstrates there is never any reason to be complacent, there is never a reason to rest on our laurels. It is a reminder that in an election, policy matters.
“We are doing something very wrong if policies put forward by the Labour Party end up on each and every Tory leaflet. We’ve got to face up to that and to learn the lesson.”
The opposition leader urged the forum, as it debates manifesto ideas, to be “disciplined” as he warned the Tories could seize on rogue policies during a general election campaign.
Following Friday’s byelection result, Sir Keir said Khan should “reflect” on the expansion of ULEZ after new Tory MP Steve Tuckwell painted the vote as a referendum on the toll.
Labour candidate Danny Beales, who cut the Tory majority from 7,200 to 495 votes, had called for the ULEZ expansion to every London borough to be delayed during the campaign.
According to HuffPost, Beales told Labour’s policy forum that the environmental proposal designed to cut air pollution “is bad policy”.
He reportedly told the conference that “a single policy cut us off at the knees” and “acted as a dead-weight” when canvassing for votes ahead of Thursday’s polling day.
“You cannot tell working people you are laser-focused on the cost of living… on making life easier and then also penalise them simply for driving their car to work,” he reportedly said.
Following the Uxbridge win, Sunak is facing calls from some Tories to water down pledges designed to help the UK meet its pledge of having a net zero carbon economy by 2050.
Tory MP Craig Mackinlay, chairman of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, has suggested delaying the ban on new petrol and diesel cars, pushing it back “at least” five years to 2035.
While Sunak avoided a triple by-election defeat, the ruling party saw heavy defeats inflicted by voters in what were once considered safe seats.
Health minister Maria Caulfield told Sky News: “Our Conservative voters don’t really want the other parties, they are just angry with us, sending us a message and wanting us to be a Conservative Party.
“I think once they see that we’re able to get the economy back on track, deal with the migrant issue, tackle the NHS waiting lists, they are waiting for us to be able to deliver.
“And I think you may see a very different result come the general election.”
By Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent