Sadiq Khan has seen off Ulez challenge at the High Court, but the real test now comes from within his own party

28 July 2023, 14:12

Sadiq Khan hailed today' ruling on Ulez expansion as a “landmark”
Sadiq Khan hailed today' ruling on Ulez expansion as a “landmark”. Picture: Alamy
Henry Riley

By Henry Riley

The Mayor of London has hailed today's ruling on Ulez expansion as a “landmark” and “very significant”, and he is right to feel relieved, even grateful at the result. But there is still a chance we will see a significant u-turn ahead of the 29th August.

Sadiq Khan has been under a barrage of criticism from the London Conservatives for nearly a year after he announced the major expansion of the scheme, but that scrutiny has now translated to a row within his own party.

After Labour unexpectedly failed to win the Uxbridge by election, Shadow Cabinet Ministers have been quick to ostracise Khan, calling for him to rethink his policy – after commentators linked the party’s misfortunes with the controversial policy. Leading pollster Professor Sir John Curtice said it was concerning that a local issue could prevent Labour performing “as they should”.

The issue for Labour is not necessarily an electoral one, but one of narrative. The Conservatives hold many of the outer London seats in places such as Uxbridge, and in other areas like Bromley, Beckenham, and Sutton – Sir Keir Starmer would not expect to win seats such as that.

But the issue is that the Labour frontbench does not want to spend its time fiercely defending one side or the other on such a divisive issue – there are many parallels with how the party has approached Brexit post-referendum. A Labour source told me “we can’t have the whole conversation surrounding London politics to be focused on Ulez. Something has to change”.

That pressure for change is difficult, though, because it is a fairly binary choice as to whether expansion goes ahead, as scheduled, next month on the 29th August.

Emily Thornberry, for example, told The News Agents just last week “we’re calling on Sadiq to consider Ulez and the result”, she also criticised the scrappage scheme saying it “was not as generous as it could be”. She is not the only Labour frontbencher to express concerns, both privately and publicly, about the impact the policy could have.

The victory, and it is undoubtedly a key win for Sadiq Khan, today prevents a minor headache for the moment. But expect the pressure to ramp up in the coming weeks. Sadiq Khan wants to press ahead with expansion, his party are unlikely to convince him to press pause, but clearly – despite today’s ruling – a compromise of sorts feels imminent.