Starmer declines to endorse last year’s Ulez expansion

In an interview with Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter, the Labour leader urges voters to back Khan but shies away from endorsing some of his key policies

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (inset right, credit is not keen on Ulez's expansion
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer (inset right, credit is not keen on Ulez’s expansion

Sir Keir Starmer has urged Londoners to back Sadiq Khan for a third term at City Hall, while shying away from some of the mayor’s key policies.

In an interview with the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Sir Keir said that many of the mayor’s policies around transport, housing and policing “could go even further and even faster” if he becomes prime minister and Khan is re-elected to City Hall.

But he refused to explicitly endorse the mayor’s decision to expand the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) last summer, and suggested that he would not allow Khan to freeze London rents.

He also declined to take up the mayor’s suggestion that the government should be paying for universal free school meals across the country.

Speaking at Khan’s re-election campaign launch on Monday (18th), the Labour leader said: “The idea, for me, to be working with my friend Sadiq across London – the mayor of London and a Labour government working together – that would transform so many lives.”

In an interview afterwards however, Sir Keir was unwilling to give his backing to some of the key policies the mayor has been calling for from the current Tory government.

Khan has for the last five years been calling on ministers to empower him to introduce a system of rent controls across the capital. He has more recently called on the government to impose a “two year rent freeze”, saying that it would be a “lifeline” for the growing number of Londoners who are being pushed into homelessness.

But Sir Keir said: “In relation to rent controls, that’s not our national policy.”

He added: “I can assure you that Sadiq and I work very closely together. Sadiq feels strongly about this. But look, we will work together as we go forward.”

Pressed on whether he could envision himself allowing the mayor to introduce rent controls, he said: “It’s not our policy at the moment.”

The Labour leader also declined to specifically endorse the mayor’s decision to expand the Ulez, though he stressed he was “right to focus on air pollution”.

Asked whether Khan made the right decision by expanding the Ulez to cover all of London last year, Sir Keir said: “Let me tell you what’s right, and that is tackling [poor] air quality.

“That’s why I said in my speech that I don’t give my children dirty water to drink, and I [therefore] don’t want them breathing in dirty air – and that’s the root issue that we’re talking about here.

“Now what I want is measures in place which are proportionate and effective, but tackling air pollution is something we have to do and Sadiq has been leading for London on that.”

Asked whether the mayor’s decision to expand the Ulez was “proportionate”, Sir Keir said: “I’m always looking at ways in which we reduce the burden on working people.

“But I think you well understand the legislation behind this, what the government requires of Sadiq as mayor. Sadiq took the measure that he did to deal with air pollution and he’s right to focus on air pollution.”

Sir Keir was referring to the fact that the government requires local authorities to demonstrate that they are taking steps to reduce nitrogen dioxide concentrations to within legal limits “in the shortest possible time”.

But the mayor’s decision to expand the Ulez across London was not a measure the government specifically ordered him to take.

Khan said: “[Achieving] the ends is a requirement by the law, and the means [to achieve those ends] is what we’re doing with a number of policies – with electric buses, the Ulez, electric taxis, and so forth.”

He insisted: “There is no other way to meet the ends, except for that policy.”

In July last year, Sir Keir said he did not think there was “any doubt that Ulez was the reason that we lost the by-election in Uxbridge”. His remarks came after a winning Conservative campaign in the constituency which was heavily focused on the issue.

One of the mayor’s less controversial policies has been his programme of universal free lunches for all London primary school children. His Tory mayoral opponent Susan Hall has said she would also keep the policy going if elected “for as long as the cost of living situation requires it”.

Khan believes the government should be providing free school meals on a universal basis across the country. He said last year: “I am hoping that the lessons from London will show the case unarguably that universal free school meals in primary schools should be a must.”

But Sir Keir said a Labour government would instead look at paying for free breakfast clubs in every primary school.

Asked if he would provide free school lunches nationally, he said: “Firstly, let’s address the root issue here, which is poverty and a cost of living crisis which is bearing down on working people in London and across the whole of the UK.

“In London, Sadiq is obviously providing free school meals. Nationally, our focus has been on breakfast clubs for all schools right across the country, so that will be a real change, a really positive step forward.

“So what we’re trying to achieve is the same, the root goal that we’re working for is the same. Slightly different ways of achieving it, but look, where London can do it, that’s a good thing.”

The London mayoral election will be held on 2nd May, along with elections to the London Assembly.

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