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The drivers’ revolt

Uxbridge voters have given a two-fingered salute to the punishing green agenda.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Politics UK

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Rishi Sunak can take a crumb of comfort from last night’s punishing by-election results. Though the Tories were crushed by Labour in Selby and Ainsty, and routed by the Lib Dems in Somerton and Frome, they managed to avoid the humiliation of a 3-0 defeat, by narrowly holding on to Uxbridge and South Ruislip. It turns out there is one thing even more unpopular than Sunak’s Tory government – and that is the green agenda.

Make no mistake, it was the ULEZ wot won it for the Conservatives in Uxbridge. This was an eminently winnable seat for Labour. It had a thin Tory majority of just 7,000 at the last election, which Labour had been steadily eroding over the past decade. What’s more, the former MP – ex-PM Boris Johnson – left parliament under a cloud of scandal, having been found by MPs to have lied to the Commons about those lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street. Meanwhile, the governing party is presiding over the worst squeeze on living standards since the Napoleonic Wars.

Yet, despite all of these factors, voters in Uxbridge gave a two-fingered salute not to the Tories but to Labour, to protest against London mayor Sadiq Khan’s extension of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone to the suburbs. From the end of August, drivers will be charged a whopping £12.50 per day to drive in an older car or van. The largest burden will fall on the poorest and on those white van men who need their vehicles for work. It is an especially callous tax in light of the cost-of-living crisis, so it is no wonder that it has riled up the voters.

The fact that Labour didn’t see this coming shows that the chasm between voters and the elites on green issues is becoming unbridgeable. As the French gilets jaunes were fond of saying: ‘The elites worry about the end of the world. We worry about the end of the month.’ Our governing class has long thought it can get away with squeezing people’s living standards, taxing them off the roads and generally making life more miserable, so long as these measures are dressed in green garb. The drivers’ revolt in Uxbridge ought to shatter those illusions. It is a big wake up call not only for Labour, which has essentially flirted with becoming the Just Stop Oil Party, but also for the Tories. After all, the government’s own Net Zero commitments are punishing voters for the supposed eco-crimes of driving their cars and heating their homes.

Elsewhere last night, without the ULEZ issue to fire up the voters, the Conservatives crashed and burned. Labour managed to overturn a massive Tory majority of 20,000 in Selby and Ainsty – the biggest by-election win in Labour’s history. However, even a win of this size speaks less to any public enthusiasm for Labour and its agenda than to the exhaustion of the Tories in government, especially under Sunak’s tepid, technocratic rule. Leave voters are particularly disillusioned, with nearly half saying they will not vote Tory at the next election. This has created the opening for even arch-Remainer Keir Starmer to nab seats in Leave-voting Tory heartlands like North Yorkshire – not because Leave voters are running back to Labour, but because they are staying at home.

The two Tory defeats also point to the rise of a bourgeois anti-Tory voting bloc, which is voting tactically to great effect. The Lib Dems may have won Somerton and Frome on an astonishing 29 per cent swing, but this is not being replicated in those seats where Labour was the choice for the anti-Tory vote. Last night, the Lib Dems could only muster 3.3 per cent of the vote in Selby, and just 1.7 per cent in Uxbridge. Meanwhile, in Somerton, Labour was pushed all the way down to fifth place, with a measly 2.6 per cent of the vote. Clearly, neither opposition party is actually enthusing the public. Their rise is almost entirely parasitical on the collapse of the Conservatives.

In fact, Labour’s entire electoral strategy seems to be to wait and watch as the Tories bury themselves. Keir Starmer has tried to make a virtue of offering almost nothing that’s distinctive or radical. Earlier this month, shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves even vowed that a Labour government would copy the Tories’ taxing and spending plans if elected. Essentially, whichever party we vote for, we will end up with Jeremy Hunt.

The main difference between the Tories and Labour right now is that Labour is slightly more wedded to the establishment’s values – from greenism to identity politics to technocracy. You could see this clearly in Labour’s choice of candidate for Selby, Keir Mather, who is now the youngest MP in the House of Commons. The 25-year-old Oxford graduate, despite his age, is an avatar of the professional political class, with very little life experience and even less common sense. His only jobs have been in public relations and as an aide to Wes Streeting. His main contribution to public life, before becoming an MP, was to denounce the feminist Germaine Greer as a ‘dangerous and abhorrent transphobe’. If Mather is anything to go by, a Labour government will be just like the current one, only more technocratic and more woke.

Still, the revolt over ULEZ shows there is still some hope left in British politics. Voters in Uxbridge have shown us the way. They have said a loud No to the punitive green agenda. They have stood up to the diktats of the technocrats. The only question remains: will our leaders listen?

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK

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