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‘The Right-Wing Outrage Over Sadiq Khan’s Supposed ‘Pay Per Mile’ Scheme Stretches the Limits of Hypocrisy’

Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson privately backed the same road-pricing schemes the Conservatives are now attacking the London mayor over.

The attack dogs are out as Khan’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone is expanded to cover all of London. Photo: Steven May / Alamy Live News

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“Secret Labour plan to charge drivers by the mile: ULEZ is just the start of Khan’s carless society as plans are drawn up for a NEW and even more far-reaching tax that could charge drivers by mile” screamed the Mail on Sunday over the weekend. 

The paper has spotted TfL plans for a new pay-per-mile scheme to replace existing road charges in the capital. The reasoning behind the move is quite obvious: existing road charging measures like the Ultra Low Emissions Zone but also – nationally – Vehicle Excise Duty (aka ‘road tax) raise revenue based on how polluting vehicles are. 

That revenue is going to absolutely collapse when new petrol and diesel sales are banned in 2030 and most vehicles switch to electric. As indeed, is the government’s stated plan. Fully electric vehicles currently pay zero Vehicle Excise Duty. 

The Mail on Sunday’s anger was clear – and classically partisan: “Many of Labour’s most radical ideas begin life in London and then capture the national party before being inflicted on the country….Tory sources warn, with good reason, that Labour’s vision, at least in cities, is for a carless society. 

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“The Left sees your car or van as a legitimate source for the maximum amount of tax…If voters are wise, they will prevent Mr Khan or his Labour Party from succeeding in these plans.”

All of which would be fair enough were it not for two facts. One: Sadiq Khan has categorically ruled out imposing his own pay-per-mile scheme in the capital (for better or worse) and two: Conservatives know that new ways of taxing vehicles when petrol and diesel vehicles are phased out is both essential and inevitable and have been privately considering plans to do much the same for years.

VED currently raises about £7bn a year: bigger than the annual budget for Defra, the environment department. That will collapse without a rethink of the tax. Fuel duty – charged, of course, only on petrol, diesel and other fossil-extracted fuels raises even more: £26bn a year. That’s a damn sight more than the annual budget for the Home Office, charged with protecting our borders and keeping the peace. 

A Government ‘source’ (normally a spokesperson or Special Adviser) told the Mail: “Ulez is just the start for them. The next stage is driving cars off the road. Labour’s vision is basically a carless society – certainly in the cities. They have been looking how to technically do this for every road.”

And the usual Conservative rentaquotes were rolled out: London MP Bob Blackman told the paper that TfL’s consideration of pay-per-mile charging was ‘outrageous’ and that Mr Khan “needs to come clean with what his intention is”.

The Harrow East MP added that TfL ‘should be upfront, say this is what we are doing and why we are doing it. After that, people should have the right to have a say – before they start wasting people’s money.”

Now contrast that with the reality of what must be done. 

The Conservatives are Not Telling the Truth About their Opposition to London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone

Sadiq Khan has faced relentless flak for the Ultra Low Emissions Zone. But it wasn’t his idea.

Consensus for Change

In the ancient past of 2022, the Commons transport committee published a report finding: “Policies to deliver net zero emissions by 2050 are likely to result in zero revenue for the Government from motoring taxation by 2040. In addition to generating taxation to fund essential public services, motoring taxation plays a key role in managing congestion by regulating demand to use public roads. If the Government fail radically to reform motoring taxation, the UK faces an under resourced and congested future.”

They added: “The Government must act now on this agenda. The taxes imposed by fuel duty and vehicle excise duty are increasingly duplicated by local schemes that charge motorists for entering congestion zones and clean air zones.

“The growing patchwork of devolved schemes may make it impossible to deliver a national road pricing scheme, because the simultaneous operation of local and national road pricing schemes would create confusion and unfair double taxation.” 

In other words, any replacement for VED and fuel duty is likely to be in the hands of devolved governments, including regional mayors.

And as if it couldn’t be clearer – they fully backed a pay-per-mile road charging system as one of the options. 

Demanding action “by the end of 2022” the committee added: “The situation is urgent…One of those options should be a road pricing mechanism that uses telematic technology to charge drivers according to distance driven, factoring in vehicle type and congestion. If motoring taxation is linked to road usage, the Committee has not seen a viable alternative to a road pricing system (based on telematics).”


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This is exactly the kind of pay-per-mile system environmentalists are calling for, and which City Hall, Transport for London and indeed former Chancellor and current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak himself, have reportedly previously been open to.

The chair of the committee that issued this supposedly outrageous left-wing demand? A certain Huw Merriman. He is now a Transport Minister in the Government that is briefing against Sadiq Khan’s non-plans. 

The composition of the committee? Six Conservatives and five non-Conservatives. So a Conservative majority committee called for the policy that the Mail on Sunday believes Sadiq Khan is going to implement in London, but isn’t. You won’t see many Mail editorials about that though.

Nor will you see many columns about current Daily Mail star columnist Boris Johnson’s previous call in 2014, when London mayor (as reported by the paper at the time) for exactly the sort of road-pricing scheme his new employers are now so enraged about.

It’s a topsy-turvy world in the right-wing press. 

It would be gob-smacking were this kind of hypocrisy not the norm. The concocted outrage over new road charging schemes can only be understood through the prism of disingenuous party-political attacks, pursued by the attack dogs who run some of Britain’s biggest newspapers. We pay the price in a degenerated debate.  

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