Labour has blamed Sadiq Khan and his hated expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) for their shock by-election defeat in Boris Johnson’s former seat of Uxbridge.
Sir Keir Starmer said it was clear Ulez was the reason the Tories won – urging Mr Khan to “reflect” on the expansion. “We know that [was the reason for defeat]. We heard that on the doors. And we’ve all got to reflect on that – including the mayor.”
Asked what “reflect” meant – and pressed on whether the expansion to outer London should now be scrapped – Sir Keir said: “We’ve got to look at the result. The mayor needs to reflect. And it’s too early to say what should happen next.”
Labour MPs told The Independent Mr Khan and the party should now ditch the policy. It came as deputy leader Angela Rayner admitted that Labour flopped in north-west London because they did not “listen to the voters” on Ulez.
Despite overturning a 20,000 Tory majority to take Selby, a downbeat Ms Rayner said: “We’ve got to keep our feet on the ground … I think one of the things we have to reflect on today is not only the mood against the Tories, but also the decision in Uxbridge was related to Ulez.”
Ms Rayner added: “The Uxbridge result shows that when you don’t listen to the voters, you don’t win elections … People are really concerned about how, during a cost of living crisis, that they’re going to be imposed with a Ulez charge that they can’t afford.”
The failure to overturn the Tory majority in the seat was dubbed “Uloss” by a Labour insider in a sign of anger at Mr Khan’s plan to extend the scheme to outer London.
Despite Labour optimism that a 7,000 majority could be overturned and a humiliating triple byelection defeat inflicted on Rishi Sunak, the Tories’ Uxbridge candidate Steve Tuckwell managed to retain it by 495 votes.
Labour candidate Danny Beales had expressed his reservations about the policy midway throuigh the campaign – arguing that August was not the right time to expand the £12.50 daily charge on cars that do not meet emissions standards.
But Mr Tuckwell, who opposed the policy, seized upon local anger. He essentially thanked Mr Khan for handing him victory on Friday morning. “It was his damaging and costly Ulez policy that lost them this election.”
Labour’s Siobhan McDonagh – MP for outer London seat Mitcham and Morden – called on Mr Khan to “suspend” the expansion and find a way to make sure “those with the broadest shoulders” carry the burden for any changes.
“I think Sadiq should suspend the start date and have another look at it,” she told The Independent – saying the £12.50 charge set to be imposed on outer London drivers from August was essentially a “regressive tax”.
Ms McDonagh said: “It’s a laudable aim to improve air quality, but the question is whether this is the right way to do it.”
Shadow justice secretary Steve Reed made clear the frustration inside Labour by insisting Mr Khan and those responsible for the policy will now need to “reflect”, adding: “When the voters speak any party that seeks to govern has to listen.”
Asked what his party could have done differently, Mr Reed said: “I think those responsible for that policy will need to reflect on what the voters have said and whether there’s an opportunity to change.”
But Mr Khan defended his controversial Ulez expansion, sticking to his guns on the rollout planned for August, which aims to cut emissions and improve air pollution.
“Of course I am disappointed that this seat, which has never been Labour in my lifetime, didn’t go Labour last night,” said Labour’s London mayor.
Mr Khan told the BBC: “The decision to expand the ultra-low emissions zone was a tough one, but it’s the right one. We do want to clean up the air in London. I think it’s a human right, not a privilege. Nobody puts up with dirty water. Why dirty air? … I’m hoping Ulez is expanded by the end of August.”
A source close to Mr Khan defended Ulez and played down the significance of the result, telling The Independent: “Sadiq has always been clear that expanding the Ulez was a really difficult decision, but necessary to save the lives of young and vulnerable Londoners.”
They added: “Winning Uxbridge and South Ruislip was always going to be a struggle for Labour. Labour hasn’t won this seat for five decades and Tony Blair didn’t even win it during the 1997 landslide.”
Ms Rayner accepted that London voters had “had enough” of Ulez because they do not feel they can afford to change their vehicles – saying a “proper compensation” was needed, despite Mr Khan’s exsiting £110m scrappage scheme which gives out grants to drivers.
The deputy Labour leader would not say if the party would now urge Mr Khan to drop or delay the expansion from inner to outer London planned for August.
Asked if she was worried about Labour struggling in other outer London seats, she said: “It’s not just a problem for Labour, it’s a problem for the Conservatives … because they’re not providing the support,” she told BBC Breakfast.
After saying “Sadiq Khan needs to listen”, victorious Tory MP Mr Tuckwell added: “I think there will Labour MPs in outer London boroughs who will be looking at this result tonight with sweaty palms.”
Mr Johnson, who did no campaigning in his old seat, said the result was “fantastic news“ and “shows the Conservatives can win in London and around the country”.
A Labour spokesperson said it was “unsurprising” Ulez had been an issue during the cost of living crisis. “This was always going to be a difficult battle in a seat that has never had a Labour MP and we didn’t even win in 1997.”
A Tory source said it was time to prepare for “implosion of London Labour” with both Sir Keir and Mr Khan facing discontent on the issue.
But Chris Skidmore, the Tory MP who led a net zero review for the government, urged both parties to “honest” about the need for climate-friendly policies like the Ulez extension – pointing out it was originally introduced by Mr Johnson.