Express & Star

Andy Richardson: Parties realise cost of appearing too green

If ever we needed to consider if our green policies were necessary, we have only to look at mainland Europe.

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Ulez was Labour’s downfall

It’s gone into meltdown with devastating temperatures, while further afield, from the USA to China, the picture is similar.

The world is warming, polar ice is melting, seas are getting hotter, and we’re on course to miss the targets that scientists and politicians have agreed. Huge nations as China and India are doing little, while those with resources to change are making short-term political decisions not to act.

The conundrum revealed itself in Uxbridge last week, when the Tories defied the odds by winning a seat that they were destined to lose.

In Somerset and Yorkshire, where they’d held bigger majorities, they were crushed. Yet in Uxbridge, they held on – though probably not for long. The reason was simple – they pinned an unpopular policy to clean polluted air on London’s Labour Mayor.

It really was that simple. And so those on low incomes, who can’t afford to upgrade their car to one that’s less polluting, voted against plans to tax polluting vehicles. It doesn’t matter that kids in parks will live shorter lives, they simply can’t afford to pay or change during a cost of living crisis.

The issue seems not to be whether or not the air should be cleaner – even the maddest culture warrior has to accept we need cleaner air, we need to stop pouring sewage into once-clean rivers and oceans, we need to generate greener, cleaner energy. The issue, instead, is who pays? And the regressive policy that makes the poorer pick up a proportionally bigger tab was roundly defeated.

ULEZ – the tax on polluting vehicles driving in London – isn’t unique to the capital city. There are cleaner air zones in Birmingham and other parts of the UK. The Tory Government, however, has abandoned London’s Mayor and left him to it, rather than providing the funds necessary to effect a fair and equitable transition. And voters let Mayor Sadiq Khan know what they thought of that.

The implementation of policy – rather than the policy itself – is what politicians from all sides should consider. Yes, we need clean air. Yes, there’s a cost. Now who should pay for that?

Last week’s by-election produced two key messages. Firstly, voters want a non-Tory Government. The Lib Dems revival in the South West, which was underpinned by tactical voters from Labour and Green supporters, showed that people were voting against Conservatives, as well as voting for Lib Dems.

The same was true in Selby and Ainstry, where Labour overturned a 20,000 Tory majority and turned it into a 4,000 victory for the Opposition. They too were buoyed by defections from Lib Dems and Greens, who worked together to oust an unpopular Tory.

The second message, from Uxbridge, was this: People literally have no more money left and are sick to the back teeth of paying extra taxes at a time when inflation remains rampant and where wages continue to fall behind. Being blamed for adding £90 a week to household bills, even if it is for cleaner air, is a price that people can’t afford. And so – because we need cleaner air – a different way of implementing that policy is needed.

The first message is likely to be the most important. Lib Dem leader Ed Davey believes tactical voting can lock the Tories out of power for a generation.

Whether or not that’s true remains to be seen, but the Tories continue to suffer because of the dreadful legacies of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss. Johnson’s untrustworthiness, anarchic relationship with the truth, and his contempt for the institutions and laws that underpin our democracy has cast the longest of shadows. The Tories remain mired in sleaze and generally untrusted.

Couple that with the failure of their traditional vote-winner – their trustworthiness on the economy – and they’re a busted flush. Liz Truss crashed the economy and that makes them untrusted, despite Rishi Sunak’s attempts to steady the ship. Selby and Ainsty, as well as Somerton and Frome, suggest that toxic cocktail is enough to lose them the keys to Number 10.