Sunak urged to drop ‘unpopular’ and ‘expensive’ green pledges ahead of election
The Prime Minister is being urged by the right of the Conservative Party to drop “unpopular, expensive green policies” ahead of the next general election.
Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Tory win in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election had shown there is a “real chance” that Rishi Sunak’s party could pull off a shock win when the country next heads to the polls.
London mayor Sadiq Khan’s expansion of the ultra low emission zone (Ulez) has been blamed on Labour failing to take Boris Johnson’s old seat, with Tory candidate Steve Tuckwell claiming a narrow victory by 495 votes.
Former business secretary Sir Jacob said the “lesson” from the west London result was that “there are things that we can change that will be electorally successful” as he urged ministers to “stop burdening” the public and businesses with “extra” green charges.
The Tories encountered massive defeats in two other by-elections held last week, with Labour overturning a 20,000 Conservative majority in Selby and Ainsty and the Liberal Democrats making light work of a 19,000 blue majority in Somerton and Frome.
But Sir Jacob, pointing to by-election losses for the Tories ahead of the party’s general election victory in 1992 under Sir John Major, said such results were not always a barometer of how a poll would pan out as the electoral tests give ministers the chance to reassess “what works and what doesn’t”.
“What works is getting rid of unpopular, expensive green policies, and that is a real opportunity for us,” he told GB News.
“We’ve got an energy Bill before Parliament at the moment which will pile endless costs on British consumers and businesses. We don’t want to do that.”
Stressing that he supported working towards having a net zero carbon economy by 2050, the right-wing Tory said he wanted to “get rid” of the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel cars — announced during Mr Johnson’s premiership — arguing it was formulated “a few years ago in different circumstances”.
Tory MP Craig Mackinlay, chairman of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group, has suggested delaying the car ban, pushing it back “at least” five years to 2035.
“I would get rid of things that apply direct costs,” said Sir Jacob, with the focus on “what is proportionate and affordable” in terms of environmental improvements.
His comments come after Housing Secretary Michael Gove warned about “treating the cause of the environment as a religious crusade” as he called for “thoughtful environmentalism”.
The Cabinet minister told The Sunday Telegraph he wants to “relax” the 2028 deadline for landlords in the private rented sector to have to make energy efficiency improvements to their properties.
Mr Gove said: “My own strong view is that we’re asking too much too quickly.”
Asked about the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles, Mr Gove, who was environment secretary when the 2050 net zero pledge was made during Theresa May’s premiership, said the target was “achievable”.
Lee Rowley, a junior minister in Mr Gove’s department, said the Government needed to be “very careful” to ensure “people come with us on this journey” of achieving net zero.
He denied that the Tories were considering ditching environmental commitments, which former party leader and prime minister David Cameron once reportedly labelled “the green crap”, as he stressed that changes would be “staged” over “several decades”.
The local government minister, asked about Mr Gove’s “religious crusade” comments, said his boss was criticising organisations and individuals who are taking an “evangelical” approach to campaigning.
He told Times Radio: “People shouting and screaming like Just Stop Oil do and saying things which are just fundamentally not correct is not actually going to get us any further down this journey or any quicker.”
Senior environmentally-minded Tories have urged both their own party and Labour not to drop green policies in the hope of short-term electoral gains.
Baron Goldsmith of Richmond Park, who resigned as an environment minister in the Foreign Office last month with a scathing attack on Mr Sunak’s “apathy” on the matter, said dropping climate change-tackling policies would be “politically suicidal” given their growing support among voters.
“To use these recent results to advocate abandonment of the UK’s previous environmental leadership is cynical and idiotic,” Lord Goldsmith told The Observer.
For Labour, despite delivering a huge blow to the Tories with the Selby win, the post-mortem examination has been far more focused on what went wrong in Uxbridge.
The party required a much smaller swing in west London than the 24 percentage points it secured in North Yorkshire to unseat the Tories – the Selby swing was the second largest produced by Labour at a by-election since 1945 – but it came up short against Tory challenger Mr Tuckwell, the newly elected MP who painted the vote as a referendum on Ulez.
Mr Khan, the Labour incumbent in City Hall, plans next month to widen the £12.50 daily charge for vehicles which fail to meet emissions standards to all London boroughs, taking it beyond the capital’s north and south circular roads.
According to The Sunday Times, Sir Keir Starmer’s senior advisers had predicted Ulez could be a vote loser and had spent months urging Mr Khan to scrap the expansion, which has been challenged at the High Court.
The PA news agency understands Mr Khan is currently looking at whether there are any further ways of mitigating the impact on Londoners without reducing the effectiveness of the policy.
A source close to the Labour mayor said: “Sadiq has been clear he is listening to Londoners following this by-election.”
Mr Khan’s team defended his plan, saying only one out of 10 cars driving in outer London would face the charge, with a £110 million scrappage scheme available to help lower earners to upgrade their vehicles.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.