Porsche, Bozza and Paddick

The curious alliance between the Tory and Lib Dem candidates and the maker of some rather polluting

It was always going to cause a stir. The new emissions-based Congestion Charge (the 'CO2 Charge') was confirmed by Ken Livingstone at a press conference at City Hall last week. I was there to witness him signing the order to bring in the new scheme, which means that, from 27 October, the most polluting band G cars (emitting more than 225 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre) will pay £25 per day to come into the central London C-Charge zone. Meanwhile, the cleanest cars in bands A and B (less than 120 g/km) will get a 100% discount, at least for a while.

Acknowledging the part my campaign group the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s played in delivering public support for this measure, Ken Livingstone tried to hand me the pen used to sign the order as a souvenir. Unfortunately, the pen in question turned out to be a birthday present belonging to a member of GLA staff, so I wasn't after all able to place it in our campaign museum (along with our first spoof parking ticket and our collage of sweary emails from petrolheads) but it was a nice gesture.

Despite the long-overdue need for real financial incentives for cleaner cars, it is election time, so the announcement immediately prompted knee-jerk attacks from the other Mayoral candidates. Not only that, but gas-guzzler manufacturer Porsche has since threatened a legal challenge and both candidates have used this as an excuse to criticise the scheme again. Boris Johnson said he “understood where Porsche was coming from", while Brian Paddick added, "Porsche have a point."

I'm not worried by the legal threat at all. I don't see how a classic case of applying the 'polluter pays' principle could be classed as discrimination, especially since Porsche could easily make vehicles under 225 g/km but simply choose not to. And people will still be free to carry on driving big, polluting cars in central London; all the new charge means is that they will have to pay more for the extra cost of the pollution that they create. It all seems perfectly fair to me.

Legal experts agree that Porsche's threat is unlikely to come to much in the end. Barrister Nick Armstrong told the Guardian that 'unfairness' to Porsche owners was unlikely to wash with the High Court, saying, "On the face of it is difficult to see how Livingstone's decision falls outside the range of reasonable responses."

Reading through the newspapers on this, it's sometimes hard to tell the complainers from the proponents of the scheme. While the head of Porsche UK (against) is actually complaining when he says that the new charge is, "a green tax for those who own certain cars in London,” Ken Livingstone (in favour) is all for it when he says it would, “ensure that those who choose to carry on driving the most polluting vehicles help pay for the environmental damage they cause.”

Similarly, while Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth (in favour) says, “It would be more appropriate for Porsche to put its effort into making a new generation of much less polluting vehicles,” Brian Paddick (against) says much the same with, “Manufacturers are already modifying their cars to come in just under the CO2 threshold.” Yes Brian, that's the very idea and, if they do, it will represent a real advance. The difference between the 348 g/km of CO2 chucked into the atmosphere by the Porsche Cayenne and the 225 g/km that would bring it under the threshold is significant, even if 225g/km is still too high for a truly sensible car.

I find Paddick's strident opposition to this measure the most bizarre development here. After all, while on the London Assembly, one of the earliest proponents of this measure was Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone. In fact, a lot of his policy-making is starting to develop a back-of-an-envelope feel, especially on green issues. His campaign has come up with a long, rambling list of alternative ways of cleaning up London's cars including (weirdly) off-setting schemes and a self-defeatingly large £10 congestion charge zone extending right up to the M25.

What's not in doubt is that this is definitely an election issue so, if some people don't like the idea, they can of course vote for one of its opponents in May, rather than for me or Ken Livingstone.

Having argued for these changes for four years with the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s, and having looked into almost every detail of the Congestion Charge for our report to TfL in 2006, I am very happy with the resulting scheme. My one quibble is that, at the bottom end, there is no confirmed date for when the zero-charge band will be tightened. That's why, in my response to the recent consultation, I proposed making it clear now how the emission bands at both the top and bottom ends would be strengthened over time.

However, while I am being constructive, both Johnson and Paddick aren't helping themselves or their campaigns with their attacks. When you find yourself arguing on the side of a petulant car company against the interests of ordinary Londoners, you should realise you've taken opposition for opposition's sake too far.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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