At Labour’s National Policy Forum last weekend the party reckoned with a disappointing result in Boris Johnson’s former seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, a defeat that Keir Starmer blamed on a Labour policy: the expansion of the London Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez), which will charge owners of more polluting vehicles £12.50 per day to drive in any London borough from 29 August. Starmer said Labour was “doing something very wrong if policies put forward by the Labour Party end up on each and every Tory leaflet”.
Labour insiders have complained to the Guardian that the Tory campaign used “dirty tricks” to give voters “the mistaken impression that they would lose the right to use their cars”. But it is Labour that seems to have been misled.
The most widely cited figure on the impact of Ulez expansion is Transport for London (TfL)’s estimate that more than 90 per cent of cars on London’s roads are already able to drive within the Ulez area. If Labour used this as a basic assumption for its campaign, it may have concluded that a minority of a few thousand people – especially in an affluent constituency such as Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which has a median income 25 per cent higher than the rest of the UK – would vote against Ulez expansion. This assumption was wrong.
Data shared exclusively with the New Statesman by Experian shows that Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituents own 5,279 petrol cars that were registered before 2005 (when the emissions standards used by the Ulez were applied to all new petrol cars), and 6,456 diesel cars, that were registered before 2015 (when standards used by the Ulez were applied to diesel). There are also 2,268 light commercial vehicles running pre-2015 diesel engines.
In all, Experian estimates that 14,413 vehicles registered in Uxbridge and South Ruislip – about 21 per cent of all vehicles – are old enough that they will not meet the new emissions standards. This suggests the Ulez expansion will affect more than twice the number of people in Uxbridge and South Ruislip than implied by TfL’s figure.
TfL’s data comes from roadside ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) cameras that record the vehicles driven in the borough. TfL declined to comment on the number or location of these cameras in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, but the quality of this data has been called into question as part of the High Court challenge to Ulez being fought by a group of Conservative councils.
Experian’s data comes from vehicle registrations, meaning it reflects the vehicles actually owned by people in the constituency.
The 14,413 vehicles identified by Experian correlate closely to the number of votes (13,965) cast for the Conservative candidate, Steve Tuckwell, who ran on the single issue of stopping Ulez expansion. Tuckwell’s campaign leaflets barely acknowledged that he was a Conservative and were dedicated entirely to “Sadiq Khan’s car tax”.
That claim was misleading: the Ulez policy was introduced by the former Conservative MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip, Boris Johnson, in 2015. Its expansion was proposed by Sadiq Khan in 2018, and made obligatory by the then transport secretary, Grant Shapps, as part of the government’s extraordinary funding agreement with TfL in 2020. It is as least as much a Conservative policy as a Labour one. It is also absolutely necessary: a 2021 analysis found almost all children in London go to school in an area with air pollution levels above World Health Organisation limits, and low-emissions zones have been shown to be highly effective in reducing pollution.
In terms of the actual impact of Ulez expansion, however, it looks as if 14,000 people in Uxbridge and South Ruislip had an accurate view of whether they would be affected by Ulez expansion, and voted accordingly.
[See also: Labour’s Ulez panic cedes ground to the Tories]