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Rishi Sunak’s decision to abandon the Government’s previous climate change plans in the wake of the Conservative party’s narrow win in the Uxbridge by-election was always a baffling decision.
Despite failing to gain the seat by just 500 votes, Labour still achieved their best ever result in the outer London constituency at a time when there was significant local concern about the then rapidly-approaching imposition of ULEZ vehicle charges.
For Sunak to take that narrow result in just one constituency as a reason to abandon a long-standing multi-decade strategy seemed foolish at best and utterly reckless at worst.
Keir Starmer’s own calls for his party’s London mayor Sadiq Khan’s to delay ULEZ were similarly baffling.
Sources close to the Mayor told Byline Times that the experience from previous phases of the scheme (which were introduced by Khan’s predecessor Boris Johnson) suggested that opposition would quickly fade once action was taken. They also questioned whether the calls to delay ULEZ were merely a pretext to avoiding action altogether.
As one City Hall source put it to this paper: “when do they expect us to delay it until exactly? Never I assume”.
Today a new poll suggests that both Sunak and Starmer appear to have jumped the gun. According to the polling by YouGov, which has a long record of polling London mayoral elections, Khan now has a 25-point lead over Susan Hall in the city.
One senior London Conservative figure speaking anonymously to Byline Times said that the poll was in line with their own soundings in the city, which suggest that the party is likely to lose big when the two candidates face each other next May.
“We don’t expect it to be close”, they said.
Recent figures put out by City Hall also show the ULEZ scheme is working, with 95% of vehicles entering London now compliant with the new standards, leading to cleaner air for all Londoners.
Despite this, Sunak remains committed to his new anti-green agenda, announcing plans today for a whole new series of oil and gas licenses in the UK. It follows his recent commitment to clamp down on 20mph zones as part of his plan to end the (in reality non-existent) ‘War on the Motorist’. Other anti-green plans are also expected to be unveiled in this week’s King’s Speech, which will be read out in Parliament by the passionately pro-environmentalist King Charles.
Once again this shift is shortsighted. North Sea gas production is set to drop to next to nothing over the next 30 years, even allowing for these new licenses. And even if that were not the case, increasing North Sea production will have little to no effect on domestic prices, due to the fact that it will simply feed into the vastly larger global market.
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Sunak’s strategy is also failing to turn around the party’s political standing either. Since announcing his anti-green strategy, average poll ratings for both the Conservatives and Sunak have actually declined. With the party losing more and more votes among younger age groups, his new plans are set to become increasingly politically outdated.
What it does do however, is send another signal that the UK, which until recently was viewed as one of the world’s leading nations on tackling climate change, simply no longer takes the issue seriously.
The harm from that shift will persist even if Sunak’s strategy is ultimately rejected by voters in both London and across the country next year.