One of Keir Starmer’s most senior shadow cabinet members has acknowledged that Sadiq Khan is answerable to London’s electorate, not the leadership of the Labour party, and is entitled as Mayor of London to pursue his policy of enlarging the capital’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to cover all of the city despite the leadership’s wishes.
Speaking to Times Radio following yesterday morning’s High Court ruling that the planned expansion is lawful, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said, “If you believe in devolution, you believe in his right to do that”.
Though stating that neither he, Starmer nor shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves want the expansion on 29 August to go ahead, Streeting, MP for the outer London constituency of Ilford North, said, “Sadiq is the Mayor of London. He doesn’t answer to us, he answers to Londoners,” and added, “We’re going to have to take it on the chin”.
Streeting also said it was “the hard truth” that the Mayor’s policy had prevented Labour overturning a Tory majority of 7,200 at the recent Uxbridge & South Ruislip by-election, which the Conservative candidate held on to by 495 votes having framed the contest as a “referendum on ULEZ”.
The acknowledgment by Starmer’s close lieutenant that accepting Khan’s right to pursue a policy his party leader opposes is consistent with a belief in devolution follows reports that the Labour leader is unhappy with Labour’s big city Mayors speaking and acting out of line with his stance on issues, and Labour’s barring the Mayor of North Tyne, Jamie Driscoll, from seeking re-election next year.
Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, who was transport secretary under the premiership of Boris Johnson, has challenged Starmer to “tell” Khan to stop the expansion.
In his former transport role, Shapps was responsible for imposing tight financial controls on Transport for London during the Covid-19 pandemic, including, in May 2020, ordering Khan to oversee “the immediate reintroduction” of the ULEZ, which at that time covered only central London and had been suspended in response to Covid so that people who had to travel to work had the option of doing so safely by car without paying the daily anti-pollution charge.
Shapps also instructed Khan to propose how to “widen the scope and levels” of the ULEZ and other road-user charging schemes.
The Conservatives’ 2019 general election manifesto expressed an “ambition” to build on the devolution of powers to city mayors “so that every part of our country has the power to shape its own destiny”.
Datasets described in May of this year by Tory mayoral candidate Susan Hall as “proper figures” for ULEZ compliance rates across the capital suggest that, assuming an upward trend since 2021 has continued, around 90 per cent of the cars of the 58 per cent of London households that have them may now meet ULEZ standards.
This means roughly six per cent of London households might be directly affected by the 29 August expansion before or after it is put in place.
The most recent opinion poll about the expansion plan, conducted last month, found that 47 per cent of Londoners were in favour of it, compared with 32 per cent who opposed it.