"A byelection in a London suburb has placed environmental policy at the centre
of political debate in the UK, and could make it a key battleground in the next
The Conservative party narrowly held former prime minister Boris Johnson’s seat
in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, vacated after his resignation from parliament.
The win has been cast as a victory driven by popular anger against climate
policy, particularly London’s ultra-low emissions zone (Ulez) – an area where
drivers of the highest-polluting vehicles must pay a fee.
The winning candidate positioned himself as the anti-Ulez choice, tapping into
local anger at the policy. But as comments from media and politicians show, the
Uxbridge story signals a new stage of national politics that demonises
environmental policies. And my research suggests this could develop into an
important new front in the culture war, with the power to help determine the
The Ulez, created by Boris Johnson as mayor of London in 2015, is a restricted
area covering central London, where vehicles must meet emissions standards or
pay £12.50 to enter. Most petrol cars registered after 2005 and diesel cars
registered after 2015 meet the standards. It’s primarily a public health
policy, with the goal to reduce air pollution and encourage the use of
It is due to expand into London’s outer boroughs in August 2023 – an area 18
times larger than the original zone. Legal battles and public protests have
blamed London’s Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan, for the expansion of the policy.
The opposition to Ulez is highly partisan. Nationally, 59% of Conservatives
oppose Ulez schemes compared to 23% of Labour voters. In London, 72% of those
who voted Leave in the 2016 Brexit referendum opposed the Ulez expansion.
Former Remain voters are evenly split, with 44% in support and 44% against the
The Conservative prime minister, Rishi Sunak, has now distanced the government
from green policies that could contribute to household expenses. Labour leader
Keir Starmer acknowledged the role that Ulez played in the loss, saying that
“policy matters” in elections. He also called on Khan to “reflect” on the Ulez
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics