London Conservatives believe their hopes of winning back London are being hampered by what they see as anti-motorist policies pursued by Boris Johnson and his transport adviser Andrew Gilligan, with one senior Tory London Assembly Member saying the Prime Minister’s aide has become a “problem” for the party in the capital.
At a fringe event called “Winning back London” at the party’s conference in Manchester on Sunday, a panel of Tory AMs lined up to criticise the Low Traffic Neighbourhood schemes (LTNs) backed by the PM.
LTNs, which involve the closure of some residential streets to through traffic, have proliferated across London boroughs since the start of the pandemic, with the support of Transport for London and Johnson.
However, LTNs and the temporary segregated cycle lanes which have also expanded over the past 18 months, are unpopular with many Tory activists and politicians, the meeting heard. “We shouldn’t be backing road closures anywhere,” one Conservative member told the audience to loud applause.
Shaun Bailey, the party’s candidate at this year’s mayoral election, told the meeting that he had capitalised on the issue during his campaign against Sadiq Khan, though it is unclear what impact LTNs have had on support for the Conservatives in London.
While there has been some vocal local opposition to the schemes, opinion polls have suggested there is support for the schemes overall in the city. In Ealing, where the Conservatives campaigned strongly against LTNs during the mayoral campaign, the Conservative vote rose in the borough overall at the election in May, but went down in those wards directly affected by them.
Even so, party members at the event said that the issue was leading to growing support for Independent anti-LTN candidates among Tory voters. They complained that their own attempts to win back these voters were being hampered by the fact that LTNs are backed by their own national government.
“The problem we’re finding is that people just say, ‘This is Conservative policy,’ because it is,” one London Conservative told the meeting. Johnson has repeatedly defended the new LTN schemes, describing them as “transformational.”
“If you are going to oppose these schemes, you must tell us what your alternative is, because trying to squeeze more cars and delivery vans on the same roads and hoping for the best is not going to work,” he wrote in a foreword to a Department for Transport report in July.
As a result, the issue has caused friction between Downing Street and City Hall Tories. One Tory AM assigned blame for this to Johnson’s special adviser on transport, the former journalist, Andrew Gilligan, who was Johnson’s cycling commissioner when he was Mayor of London and has taken a leading role in pushing LTNs and segregated cycle lanes from his influential position at Downing Street.
In July he used his Twitter account to highlight examples of where funding had been withdrawn from London boroughs which had “prematurely removed schemes.”
“Gilligan’s the problem,” long-serving AM Andrew Boff told the meeting. “The problem is Gilligan… If you look at all of the issues we have with these transport schemes, the common thread is Gilligan.”
Some Conservative party members in the audience called on the AMs to use their influence with Downing Street to force Johnson to abandon his support for LTNs.
“In theory I’m not against LTNs where they work,” Londonwide AM Emma Best told the audience, before adding that “I’m not aware of them working anywhere.”
Andrew Gilligan declined to comment.
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