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Ripping out bike lanes, scrapping ULEZ, letting drivers ignore red lights … is that a London Mayoral election on the horizon?

Active travel and clean air policies face culture wars kickback ahead of May 2024 poll

Traffic lights in London should be switched off from 10pm until 7am according to one prospective Conservative London Mayoral candidate, who as we reported yesterday, also wants to rip out the city’s cycle lanes and scrap 20mph speed limits that were introduced to help save lives.

With a year to go until Londoners go to the polls, it’s guaranteed these won’t be the last transport policies put forward that aim to appeal primarily to the capital’s drivers, whether from the Tories or other parties or independent candidates, writes Simon MacMichael.

> Tory London mayoral candidate plans to end Sadiq Khan’s “attack on drivers” by switching off red lights

The idea of allowing motorists to drive through red lights at night, from Dan Korski, was quickly shot down the government, according to a Sun journalist who worked on the initial story and who reported a Number 10 Downing Street spokesperson as saying that “this is not a policy they expect DfT would enable to happen.”

Twitter user The Ranty Highwayman, a highways engineer by profession who has worked with London boroughs, described the idea as “half-baked reheated nonsense,” pointing his followers on Twitter towards a blog post he had written nearly a decade ago explaining why the idea was flawed.

With the issue of transport one of the principal policy areas over which the Mayor has control, and both Labour and the Green Party committed to reducing the use of private cars and promoting public transport and active travel, campaigning around the issue will almost certainly be hard-fought and, at times, highly personal.

The next London Mayoral Elections are due to take place on 2 May 2024, with Labour’s Sadiq Khan seeking a third term in office, and Zoë Garbett already announced as the Green Party’s candidate, while Howard Cox – founder of Fair Fuel UK, and who last year described changes to the Highway Code aimed at protecting vulnerable road users as “lunatic” – will stand for Reform UK,

> Press watchdog rejects complaint over The Sun’s “Lunatic Highway Code” article

Applications to become the Conservative candidate close tomorrow, with a shortlist of three being announced in early June, after which the issue will be put to the party’s members in the capital, with the winner announced in July.

Korski, unlike most of his rivals for the Tory candidacy including long-serving Assembly Member Andrew Boff and the Sutton & Cheam MP (and Minister for London) Paul Scully, has never held public office. Instead, he acted as deputy head of the Number 10 Policy Unit when David Cameron was Prime Minister.

But in common with most of his rivals to try and become London’s next Conservative Mayor, he has pledged to reverse the forthcoming expansion of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) to cover the whole of Greater London (currently, it encompasses the area bounded by the A406 North and A205 South Circular Roads).

Fellow hopeful for the Tory candidacy Samuel Kasumu, a local councillor in Hertfordshire and former special advisor for civil society and communities to Boris Johnson at Number 10, instead proposes holding referendums in the boroughs affected by the enlarged zone.

Some of those – Ealing and Hounslow in west London, for example – will already be partly within the ULEZ zone, since the North/South Circular Road cuts through them.

Outer London boroughs are not currently be within the ULEZ zone, however, and are also traditionally not only where the bulk of Conservative support is in the capital, but are also the neighbourhoods with the highest levels of car ownership.

Whether or not he secures the candidacy, handing the issue to voters within the individual boroughs for them to decide is an interesting move by Kasamu who, in his letter of resignation from his role at Number 10 last year accused the government of trying to pursue “politics steeped in division.”

In a subsequent interview, he said: “There are some people in the government who feel like the right way to win is to pick a fight on the culture war and to exploit division.”

Now, I wouldn’t recommend referendums as a means of formulating or executing policy – we’ve all seen where that can lead – and just imagine the chaos if, say, voters in Croydon and Bexley backed the expansion of ULEZ but those in Bromley, which lies between the two, didn’t.

Like LTNs, ULEZ will be one of the key issues debated by the candidates in the hustings leading up to next May’s poll, and it’s pretty clear where the battle lines are drawn.

And while some of the more vociferous opposition to both on social media in fact often comes from people living outside the area concerned, Kasamu’s proposal would see the issue put to the people living in the boroughs directly affected.

While ULEZ will be a central topic of debate over the next 12 months – and does have relevance for the rest of the country, since policies first implemented in the capital are often mirrored in subsequent years elsewhere – it is also important that voters understand what it entails, with no small amount of misinformation surrounding the issue, whether deliberate or otherwise.

As TfL and Khan have repeatedly pointed out, compliance with the existing ULEZ in London is very high – only 8 per cent of private vehicles entering the zone are non-compliant, and a similar situation is expected once it is expanded to the whole of the capital from 29 August this year.

And, as we’ve mentioned here before on, not only is there widespread misunderstanding of how ULEZ works, and that it is only older, more polluting vehicles that are subject to the £12.50 charge.

But it has also become a key focus of groups waging what they see as a culture war against issues such as vaccination against COVID-19, vaccination passports, low-traffic neighbourhoods and the concept of the 15-minute city, all woven together as part of what they see as some kind of worldwide conspiracy.

Whether they will field their own candidate in 12 months’ time is not known – but you can put money on the fact that whenever hustings or debates are held, people on both sides will be anxious to get their views across, however grounded in reality they are, and that efforts to make London a cleaner, more liveable city and the opposition to them will provide plenty of headlines over the coming year.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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thereverent | 12 months ago

Any potential Conservative candidate has the problem of the policies they need to support to gain selection will be the same ones that ensure they won't be elected.

The anti cycle lane / LTN / ULEZ space in the election is already crowded with other cadidates who will get a 1-2%. The Conservatives gain nothing by going for the same policies, but won;t be brave enough to say what needs to be done (less cars).

wtjs replied to thereverent | 12 months ago

the policies they need to support to gain selection will be the same ones that ensure they won't be elected

I'm not so sure- there are still a lot of stupid people about. Remember, obvious crook and shyster Johnson got a thumping majority only a little while ago.

OldRidgeback | 12 months ago

It's hard to imagine these Tory candidates will have any more success than those over the last few years. The disaster that is Brexit has pushed London to the left politically. I think the cycle lanes and 20mph speed limits are safe.

Dnnnnnn | 12 months ago

I suspect Tory candidates may see the London mayoral contest more as a means of promoting themselves to a non-metropolitan/woke/liberal/remoaning/establishment elite (etc.) audience among the Tory party itself. They've not much chance of winning London, so not much point in pitching sensible (for London voters) ideas - just get some positive coverage in the Daily Mail and get yourself noticed by Suella.

ubercurmudgeon | 12 months ago

"The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters."

jaymack replied to ubercurmudgeon | 12 months ago

Probably the first Gramsci quote on ever; awesome have another "like". 

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