In a recent twist of events, Britain’s green agenda faces uncertainty as the governing Conservative Party’s decision to attack London’s flagship anti-pollution policy sparks concerns about potential derailing of the country’s environmental initiatives in the run-up to the next national election.
The Conservative Party, which has committed to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, finds itself at odds with the main opposition Labour Party, which has even more ambitious plans of achieving 100% clean power by 2030.
In the spotlight is the expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), planned for the following month by the capital’s Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan. Interestingly, both Conservative and Labour candidates contesting the recent byelection in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency, which was previously held by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, disavowed the ULEZ expansion.
National Labour leader Keir Starmer, buoyed by his party’s lead in national opinion polls, pointed out that the expansion plan played a decisive role in his party’s candidate’s inability to secure victory in the constituency. “We heard that on the doors,” Starmer remarked, adding that it’s crucial for all parties, including the mayor, to reflect on this outcome.
Mayor Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ scheme aims to create one of the world’s largest zones targeting pollution. The proposed expansion would include 5 million more people in the capital’s greener and less-connected outer boroughs. While the vast majority of vehicles would be exempt, those exceeding the emission threshold would have to pay a daily fee of £12.50 ($16).
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, whose lukewarm support for the green agenda has faced criticism from within his own party, publicly criticized Khan for enforcing the ULEZ expansion despite opposition from residents and businesses.
Tony Travers, the director of LSE London at London School of Economics, observed that the anti-ULEZ strategy seemed successful in Uxbridge but expressed doubts about its broader benefits in terms of garnering support for parties at the upcoming 2024 national election. He suggested that an all-out assault on the government’s green priorities might not yield significant voter support due to the abstract nature of many of these policies, which often have long-term implications.
Intriguingly, both major parties have struggled to present a consistent stance on environmental issues. While Starmer and Khan disagree over the ULEZ, it is worth noting that the original policy was devised by a Conservative leader, Boris Johnson, during his tenure as London’s mayor. Additionally, the Conservative government under Theresa May committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 100% from 1990 levels by 2050.
However, the recent resignation of international environment minister Zac Goldsmith has added to the controversy. Goldsmith cited his horror at the government’s alleged step away from environmental commitments, branding Sunak as “uninterested” in taking a leading role in environmental matters.
Despite the opposition and criticism, Mayor Sadiq Khan has stood firmly by the decision to expand the ULEZ. Defending the move, he stated that while it was a tough call, it is essential to prioritize clean air, likening it to the refusal to accept drinking dirty water.
As Britain’s political landscape grapples with conflicting viewpoints and strategies on environmental policies, citizens and experts eagerly await further developments in the green agenda ahead of the pivotal national election. The fate of the nation’s commitment to combatting climate change and achieving a sustainable future hangs in the balance.