Farrukh Dhondy | UK Labour in fix: Dilute ULEZ or allow London to breathe bad air?

Sadiq Khan has now proposed that the ULEZ be expanded from Inner London boroughs to the Outer ones.

“The crow came upon a lead bullet

He knew he shouldn’t swallow it

The bullet shot out from its gun

So fast he couldn’t follow it.

This crow was known for flying straight

The bullet had parabolic flight

We can spot the crow as the crow flies

The bullet’s speed mocks human sight…”

From Aesopgol Fables, by Bachchoo

Electoral predictions are tricky and yet the public bookies of Britain get the results right more often than the opinion polls, which estimate the results before and during the vote. I have no idea how bookies work out the voting odds -- perhaps they hire some very astute astrologers? Opinion polls rely on asking representative samples of voters which way they intend to vote, or in the case of exit polls, which way they voted.

However, on July 20, three byelections were held in the UK and the predictions of the bookies, opinion polls and even of seasoned political analysts were all over the place and in one case, unexpectedly wrong. Gentle reader, I hereby confess that my own prediction (and hope) in the upsetting case was also wide off the mark.

All three byelections were the consequences of three Tory MPs resigning from Parliament. BoJo had resigned his House of Commons seat before being chastised, punished or suspended by Parliament after its Privileges Committee inquiry found him guilty of lying to the House. Two of his supporters in Parliament also resigned their seats in the wake of his resignation. Their motive, almost certainly, was that the byelections would overturn or at least erode the Tory vote in their constituencies of Selby and Ainstey in the North and of Somerton and Frome in the West Country.

Defeats or erosion of support in these Tory strongholds would reflect badly on Hedgie Sunak, whom they want to be Hedgie Soongone. The Tories are openly divided on the issue -- BoJo versus Hedgie, and the BoJists don’t mind the party going up in flames before the next election (due by law, at the latest, in January 2025), calculating that their flying-lying phoenix can emerge from them. They, and a few others in Parliament, are firmly convinced that despite Hedgie’s apparent statistical popularity, only BoJo can restore their electoral fortunes.

It may be whistling in the dark.

But the whistles broke into an unexpected, if feeble, melody when the byelection results were announced. The disaster for the Tories was first, the loss of Somerton and Frome, where at the last election they had a 17,000 majority, to the Liberal Democrats; and then the loss of Selby, where the Labour Party’s 25-year-old candidate overturned the former Tory 20,000 majority. But then in Uxbridge, the constituency from which BoJo resigned, leaving an inheritance of a 7,000 majority, which Labour thought they would easily overcome, their candidate, like Napoleon at Waterloo, came second.

Shock, horror for Sir Keir Starmer, but no solace did that defeat/victory bring to Hedgie and his cronies. The Labour defeat was not attributed to Hedgie’s resurgent popularity, but to something called ULEZ.

The defeated Labourite, the Labour Party’s leadership and oracles, and indeed the winning Tory candidate himself, all attributed the result to this ULEZ.

Yes, yes, gentle reader, contrary to the persistent convention of some Indian newspapers who throw initials about in their headlines and reports without saying what these are abbreviations for, (LOL -- see, I can do it too… --fd) I shall reveal all.

ULEZ stands for Ultra Low Emission Zone. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, together with the mayors and governing councils of several other cities, have declared parts or all of their territories to be ULEZs. It means that old cars and heavy vehicles, whose fumes pollute the atmosphere to a greater degree than the acceptable level of, for instance, that of the humble Nissan Note that yours truly drives, will be charged an inhibiting pollution fee for driving in these zones. So, change your vehicle at considerable cost, stay out or pay!

Sadiq Khan has now proposed that the ULEZ be expanded from Inner London boroughs to the Outer ones. To the west, this would mean including the boroughs such as Hounslow, which border Uxbridge, which will mean steep charges for non-compliant Uxbridgers’ vehicles when they drive into London.

Why ULEZ? Because several medical and environmental studies calculate that up to 5,000 Londoners a year die because of the effects of this greater margin of pollution and hence, reducing pollution by restricting the flow of above-the-limit vehicles will save lives. The calculation is contradicted by its critics, who claim that the 5,000 number is based on counting people with already existing conditions, such as cardio-vascular diseases, who would have succumbed to these anyway and that the level of pollution in London is not a significant contributing factor to these deaths.

I confess I am a dedicated sceptic -- by which I mean I am extremely sceptical about the idiots who are sceptical about the heatwaves all around the world being caused by fossil-fuel-generated global warming; and I am sceptical about the head-bangers who are sceptical about the scientifically-proven benefits of vaccination -- and now about ULEZ I am with Sadiq. You are entitled to think that’s because my Nissan is within the pollution limit and I don’t have to pay for a new car.

The dilemma for the Labour Party now is -- should it tone down its environmental policies and leave the voters gasping for breath?

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