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ULEZ Controversy: What the Uxbridge By-Election Revealed about Climate Policies

Author: David Hawgood https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sign_for_London_ultra_low_emission_zone_%28geograph_6183970%29.jpg

Staff writer Mehmet Temur argues that politicians should not abandon the green agenda in the light of the Uxbridge by-election results.

The 20th June by-election in Uxbridge and South Ruislip sparked heated discussions on the role of climate policies in electoral outcomes, with both the Conservative and Labour parties grappling with their implications. The election, triggered by the stepping down of former Prime Minister Boris Johnson as an MP, resulted in a victory for the Conservative candidate, Steve Tuckwell, who secured the seat with a slim margin of 495 votes. The result raised questions about the impact of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) on voter preferences and political strategy.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer blamed the ULEZ expansion for the party’s failure to win the constituency. He called on London Mayor Sadiq Khan to reconsider his plan to extend the ULEZ to outer London, suggesting that the policy had deterred potential Labour supporters.

In response, Sadiq Khan staunchly defended the ULEZ expansion, arguing that clean air is not a privilege but a human right. He acknowledged that some people had concerns about the costs associated with the policy but pointed out the lack of government support in providing a sufficient scrappage scheme for older, polluting vehicles. Khan emphasised that the expansion would significantly improve London’s air quality and the well-being of its residents.

The ULEZ expansion has been a contentious topic in outer London areas like Uxbridge and South Ruislip, where residents worry about the potential impact on their cost of living. While the policy aims to reduce emissions and combat air pollution, it has also raised concerns about its impact on working families and individuals with older vehicles.

The outcome of the by-elections in Uxbridge and South Ruislip should serve as a crucial reminder for both major parties not to view climate policies as divisive wedge issues. Instead, they should approach the issue with a comprehensive and inclusive perspective, considering the concerns of all citizens. And the main takeaway from the elections should be that climate policies need to be applied fairly, or parties will lose out. Many voters view these policies as potentially exacerbating existing inequalities, as lower-income households might bear a disproportionate burden of the associated costs. As such, it is essential for political leaders to develop climate policies that are equitable and ensure that the costs and benefits are distributed fairly among all segments of society.

Importantly, political leaders must resist the temptation to retreat from climate action in the face of political risks. Instead, they should use the Uxbridge by-election results as an opportunity to recommit to a sustainable future and demonstrate their resolve in tackling the climate crisis and a reminder that a focus on dialogue and collaboration is vital for shaping effective climate policies that resonate with the public. Engaging in open discussions about the long-term benefits of transitioning to a greener economy, alongside measures to support vulnerable communities, will help build public support for climate initiatives.

The UK Conservative Party might see the results of the Uxbridge by-election as a sign that the anti-climate policies make them win elections. However, the party should avoid embracing a more sceptical stance on climate action, following the lead of some American right-wing politicians. Attempting to abandon or water down climate policies in pursuit of short-term electoral gains could leave Rishi Sunak vulnerable to pressure from within his own party’s parliamentary group to move even further to the right on environmental issues, if his soft environmental stances work, why not go further? It would not only it be catastrophic for climate change and damage the image of the UK as a responsible nation, but it would also hurt the party in the long-term by alienating moderate voters. After all, the average Brit is far more in favour of tacking climate change than the average American. And as seen in the extremely close results of the Uxbridge election, the party cannot afford to lose even a small part of these voters.

Climate change is an urgent and global challenge that demands collective action. Both the Conservative and Labour parties have a crucial role to play in advancing climate policies that are economically viable, socially just, and environmentally responsible. As such, the issue should not be used as a culture war style vote-winning strategy with voters are divided between yes and no along the party lines, as it did during the Uxbridge by-election. Instead, it should be treated as commonly agreed policy area where both parties work towards a shared end goal of reducing the emissions, while also looking for a less unequal way to implement the climate policies. This way, they can show the nation that climate action is not a partisan issue but a shared commitment to safeguarding the planet for future generations.

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