Tories hope to secure anti-ULEZ support in ‘bagel belt’ seats after narrow election win

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Tories hope to secure anti-ULEZ support in ‘bagel belt’ seats after narrow election win

The Conservatives narrowly hold on to Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat, citing anger at Sadiq Khan's ULEZ scheme, while Labour secure big victory in Selby, and Lib Dems romp to win in Somerton and Frome

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) sign in London
Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) sign in London

Conservative election chiefs believe they can capitalise on growing opposition to Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ (ultra low emission zone) scheme in the so-called “Bagel Belt” seats of north London, after they narrowly held Uxbridge and South Ruislip in one of three by-elections on Thursday night.

In a result which many political experts failed to predict, Tory candidate  Steve Tuckwell held on to the west London seat with a majority of just 495 votes over Labour candidate Danny Beales, and immediately blamed the mayor of London’s controversial anti-pollution scheme for his success.

Amongst those to campaign in support of Tuckwell was Chipping Barnet MP Theresa Villiers, who was repeatedly pictured holding “Say No To Ulez” placards, and who has regularly condemned Khan in the House of Commons over the roll-out of the scheme.

A large team of Jewish Labour Movement activists joined around 800 Labour campaigners on the ground in the Uxbridge, hoping to convince locals to vote for Beales, a councillor in Camden who was a staunch supporter of the community in battle over antisemitism in the party.

In the end there was a 6.7-percentage point swing in the share of the vote from Conservative to Labour in Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

Keir Starmer’s party needed a 7.6-point swing to take the seat. Failure to secure a widely-predicted victory though, is likely to spark a bitter showdown between the Labour leader’s office and Khan’s.

One Labour source confirmed to Jewish News that senior figures in Starmer’s office had openly intervened in the Uxbridge campaign, after it was clear the ULEZ issue was hurting their candidate’s chances of winning.

Early in the campaign he had sought to ignore the ULEZ issue, but changed tactics, and told voters he would seek to delay the roll-out.

Victorious Tory Uxbridge candidate Steve Tuckwell is backed by Conservative Friends of Israel officials during campaign

Jewish News understands that following Thursday’s result in ex-prime minister Boris Johnson’s old seat, Tory campaign bosses now plan to “weaponise” the ULEZ issue across all Barnet seats – Chipping, Finchley and Golders Green and Hendon – with the belief that many voters, including sizeable numbers from the Jewish community, are bitterly opposed to being taxed for driving under the scheme.

Activists from the Conservative Friends of Israel group campaigned alongside the Uxbridge candidate and were photographed holding specially produced Stop Ulez Times newspapers that were delivered to voters.

Similar tactics are sure to be used with even greater vigour across Barnet as elections approach next year.

The Mayor of London faces elections next May, where he will aim to beat Tory candidate Susan Hall, as he seeks a third term of office in the capital.

Ulez is set to be the central focus of the Hall campaign, and will now also be used as a so-called “wedge” issue by Tory campaigners in the “Bagel Belt” ahead of the next general election.

But the Uxbridge result – in a seat Labour has not won for decades, and failed to do so during Tony Blair’s landslide 1997 election victory – presented only a glimmer of hope for Rishi Sunak’s party.

In  Selby and Ainsty, north Yorkshire, Labour won its biggest ever by-election victory by overturning a 20,000-vote Conservative majority.

The new MP, Keir Mather, 25, a former researcher for the shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, won by 4,161 votes, a massive 23.7 percentage point swing from the Conservatives. Again he was backed by a team of JLM activists in his successful campaign.

Mather, Jewish News can reveal, has in the past been a staunch campaigner against antisemitism in Labour under Corbyn.

In a 2017 article, written for Oxford University’s student newspaper Cherwell, Mather condemned former London mayor Ken Livingtone over anti-Jewish racism claims, writing that the fact he had “survived in the party for so long can only point to an institutionalised acceptance of antisemitism over the years.”

The Selby by-election winner now becomes the youngest MP in the Commons when it reopens in September.
In the third by-election of the night the Liberal Democrats romped to victory in Somerton and Frome, in a contest triggered by the resignation of scandal-hit David Warburton. 

Sarah Dyke, the cabinet member for the environment on South Somerset district council, won with a majority of 11,008 over the Conservatives.

Victorious Keir Mather

On Friday, the Mayor of London defended the ULEZ scheme roll-out saying he had always been clear that expanding the anti-pollution scheme, which was first approved by Boris Johnson, was “a really difficult decision, but necessary to save the lives of young and vulnerable Londoners.”

Khan’s office also believes many Londoners fail to recognise they will not be impacted by the scheme, with a need to better educate the public on its impact.

Labour sources also play down the likely impact of Tory negative campaigning on ULEZ in seats with large Jewish populations in north London.

One Jewish Labour source said Uxbridge was a very different seat than those in Barnet, with far higher numbers of the electorate, around 12 per of drivers, impacted by the scheme.

Across Barnet the figure is considerably lower, and many more of the electorate commute to work in central London without the need for cars, than in Uxbridge and South Ruislip.

Voters in Uxbridge, along with those in areas such as Bromley and Havering often see themselves as living outside London, unlike most who live in Barnet.

Asked about the impact of ULEZ on Labour votes, Khan said on Friday:”I’m hoping Ulez is expanded by the end of August. We saw in 2021 this was a big issue for the Conservative candidate … We’re listening to Londoners.

“Londoners are struggling through this cost of living crisis. But Londoners are suffering the consequences of air pollution. I’m quite clear; it’s the poorest Londoners who are least likely to own a car, [and to] suffer the worst consequences [of air pollution] – that can’t be right.”

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