Tories embroiled in hypocrisy row over anti-Ulez pledge

The Conservatives are embroiled in a hypocrisy row over Rishi Sunak’s “backing drivers bill” to scale back Ulez, ban pay-per-mile road taxes and crack down on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs).

The prime minister said the bill would be part of his first King’s Speech if he is re-elected on 4 July, promising to end Labour’s “war on drivers” in London and Wales.

But Mr Sunak was accused of hypocrisy after it emerged his own ministers had supported many of the measures he is now railing against.

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As chancellor, Mr Sunak reportedly drew up plans to introduce a pay-per-mile road pricing system. And in 2022 one of the PM’s own transport ministers, Huw Merriman, said London mayor Sadiq Khan should introduce a road pricing scheme to replace lost revenues from fuel and vehicle excise duties.

Rishi Sunak railed against Labour’s ‘war on drivers’ (EPA)
Rishi Sunak railed against Labour’s ‘war on drivers’ (EPA)

Labour also pointed out that Mr Merriman also suggested Mr Khan’s Ulez expansion was a “bold attempt to reduce congestion and pollution”.

Transport secretary Mark Harper on Friday ruled out introducing any pay-per-mile schemes and promised to reverse the London mayor’s “unfair Ulez expansion.

Former prime minister Boris Johnson introduced Ulez as mayor  in 2015, calling it an “essential measure” that would “lengthen London’s lead as the greatest city on earth”.

The Conservatives’ backing drivers bill is the party’s latest attempt to shore up its core support, with Mr Sunak on course for a 1997-style election drubbing.

The Tories said they will “protect drivers from the draconian policies of local Labour politicians”.

Anti-Ulez backlash was widely credited for helping the Tories narrowly hold on to Mr Johnson’s former Uxbridge and South Ruislip seat in the by-election to replace him.

Ulez was introduced by former London mayor Boris Johnson (AP2010)
Ulez was introduced by former London mayor Boris Johnson (AP2010)

And the party hopes it can hold onto the backing of motorists counting the cost of environmental policies in the general election.

But as well as top Tories’ past support for Ulez and pay-per-mile schemes, Labour also pointed to senior Conservatives who have previously backed LTNs.

Tory chairman Richard Holden in 2022 said decisions about LTNs should be “entirely a matter for local authorities such as Warrington to make”.

Meanwhile former transport secretary Grant Shapps touted pop-up bike lanes, wider pavements, cycle and bus only streets as “examples of what people will start to see more of” under his £250m Emergency Active Travel Funding plans in May 2020.

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh told The Independent: “This is rank hypocrisy from a party in total chaos. It has nothing to offer drivers but reheated announcements, gimmicks and broken promises.

“The Conservatives’ abysmal record is there for everyone to see. Britain has 100 times more potholes than craters on the moon and car insurance costs are out-of-control.”