Ross Clark Ross Clark

Khan may have won, but he should still reverse on Ulez

Credit: Getty Images

So what was that all about? Rumours that Susan Hall was close to toppling Sadiq Khan have proved to be wide of the mark. In the event, Hall is failing to match Shaun Bailey’s performance in 2021. There is a swing against the Conservatives in London, and Hall is failing to win in places which Bailey won three years ago. None of this should really be a surprise. There has been a strong swing against the Tories everywhere, Tees Valley included. It would be truly extraordinary if Khan failed to win.

But the rumours that Hall was doing a lot better than expected have served to aid Labour with expectation management. They have helped to conceal the fact that the mayoral election has been no landslide on the scale of Blackpool South or other recent by elections. Khan has certainly suffered some loss of support, and almost certainly thanks in large part due to Ulez.

Just as marathon runners speak of hitting a ‘wall’ at around 20 miles, political leaders so often seem to run into problems when they approach a decade in power. They become remote, hubristic – and can’t see why their policies are suddenly losing support. It happened with Margaret Thatcher and the poll tax, and with Tony Blair, whose once finely tuned political antennae seemed to desert him as tried to drive through illiberal measures such as ID cards and 90-day detention without trial. Ulez expansion has been Sadiq Khan’s equivalent. He simply can’t see that it has made life extremely difficult for a section of the population who ought to be his strong supporters: tradespeople and shift workers – nurses and cleaners included – for whom public transport is often impractical but for whom a newish car is well beyond their budget.

Khan seemed to treat Ulez expansion as a battle against the Mr Toad tendency: motorists who would always oppose speed limits, low traffic neighbourhoods and so on. Yet Ulez left well-off motorists alone: you can drive around all day in a Ferrari – emitting far more pollution than a nurse in a Fiesta – without paying a penny. Ulez is one of the most regressive taxes ever devised.

Even last year’s Uxbridge by-election was not enough to make Khan aware of what he was doing – Starmer got the message but Khan ploughed on with Ulez regardless.

Labour is strongly on course to win the general election. Trouble is that they have more regressive taxes in the pipeline, biggest of all being Ed Miliband’s promise to decarbonise the grid by 2030, which threatens to land huge bills on anyone who needs to buy peak-time electricity. A grid which is over-reliant on intermittent wind and solar will need extremely expensive energy storage to sustain it. Miliband, like Khan over Ulez, just can’t see this.

Ulez hasn’t prevented Khan from winning a third term as mayor. He has been carried along on a nationwide swing against the Conservatives. But the warnings are there if Labour wants to see them. Regressive taxation, or electricity bills, are not going to go down any better than did Thatcher’s regressive poll tax.