Labour should “stick to their guns” on expanding a charge on the most polluting vehicles in London, according to TV presenter Chris Packham.
The environmental campaigner said a Labour government could consider taxing the profits of oil and gas giants to help pay for motorists to switch to cleaner vehicles as part of Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez).
The Opposition party is embroiled in a debate about the Ulez extension after senior figures appeared to blame the mayor’s plans to extend it for Labour’s failure to win the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election.
The Conservatives hung on to Boris Johnson’s old seat by 495 votes in Thursday’s poll — well down on the 7,200 majority the former prime minister secured in 2019.
New Tory MP Steve Tuckwell and his campaigners focused on local anger about Mr Khan’s proposal to widen the £12.50 daily charge for cars that fail to meet emissions standards to beyond the capital’s north and south circular roads.
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said he did not think there was “any doubt” that “Ulez was the reason that we lost the election in Uxbridge”.
He told his party’s national policy forum on Saturday that future campaigns had to “learn the lesson” from Uxbridge after the Tories plastered their campaign leaflets with attacks on the widening of the Ulez charge.
But Mr Packham said Labour would “betray” children with breathing difficulties if it did not act to cut pollution.
The presenter of the programme, Earth, said a “transition” was needed to cleaner air, citing figures suggesting 30,000 people die annually because of poor air quality in the UK.
Speaking to Times Radio, the naturalist said: “My question is quite simple. The Labour Party are being asked, are you going to drop that part of your policy?
“What are you going to do? Do you want to grab short-term power and betray all of those children with asthma?
“Do you want to protect humanity and the rest of life on Earth? Or is it just about you getting into office? They’ve got to stick to their guns here.”
Mr Packham suggested the bill for pollution controls should fall on firms making money from fossil fuel sales.
“The difficult question is, where are they going to get the money to pay for it? Because the people in poverty in London who can’t afford to switch their vehicles shouldn’t ought to be the people that pay,” he continued.
“The people who ought to be paying are people like Centrica that have announced enormous record profits this week, like Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, who are posting all of these record profits, not because of a shortage of oil, but because of a war they are exploiting.
“As a consequence of that, we need a government robust enough to stand up (and say), ‘We’re going to tax these people and we’re going to make sure that we subsidise a just transition through to a cleaner use of energy’.”
Mr Khan’s team said nine out of 10 cars driving in outer London were already compliant with Ulez regulations and would not be charged.
Officials also pointed to a £110 million scrappage scheme unveiled by City Hall as part of the expansion, which is due to go ahead next month pending a legal challenge.
A source close to Mr Khan said: “Winning Uxbridge and South Ruislip was always going to be a struggle for Labour.
“Labour hasn’t won this seat for five decades and Tony Blair didn’t even win it during the 1997 landslide.
“It is a disappointing result and Sadiq has been clear he is listening to Londoners following this by-election. The mayor is always looking at ways he can address their concerns.
“Sadiq has always said that expanding the Ulez was a really difficult decision, but necessary to save the lives of young and vulnerable Londoners.”