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Green stuff: a cautionary tale

23 Jul 2023 6 minute read
Newly elected Labour MP Keir Mather, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, after winning the Selby and Ainsty by-election. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Ben Wildsmith

I didn’t take a bus on Thursday for environmental reasons, nor because I thought it was likely to throw up a juicy metaphor for my column.

Truthfully, I fancied a pint, so there is no need to thank me for my sacrifice. No, really, you’re embarrassing me.

Get this, though. Trundling through the narrow road in Trehafod, we came to an unscheduled halt. The driver was leaning out of his window and trying to reason with the driver of a small car who was refusing to reverse a few yards to allow the bus through.

‘I can’t reverse, butt, I’m in a bus. I’m not allowed to if I wanted to!’

For fifteen minutes the car driver refused to budge, inspiring amusement on the bus.

‘It’s fine, you carry on. Bomb-proof excuse for missing work this is.’

Eventually, with mouthed obscenities and unseemly hand gestures, he gave way and progress was restored.

On Friday morning the byelection results were in. It seemed a straightforward disaster for the Tories. The Lib Dems romped home in Somerton and Frome, while Labour unveiled its new Fisher-Price Keir as the victor in Selby and Ainsty.

These results in reliably Tory seats confirm the fate awaiting Sunak & Co. at the General Election.

45 Conservative MPs are standing down before the election and they have an average age of 52, so the writing is on both sides of the wall, the windows, and carved into the front door with a Stanley knife.

Keir Starmer, however, is not convinced. In Boris Johnson’s former seat, Uxbridge and Ruislip, the Tories hung on by 495 votes. That’s a great result for Labour and shows that incumbent Tories need to fight every seat.


By Friday morning, though, Starmer had concluded that Mayor Sadiq Khan should ‘reflect’ on his policy of expanding ULEZ charges to the outer London boroughs. This issue, it was confirmed by both Labour and Conservative canvassers, is what had stood in the way of a Labour victory.

On Saturday Morning he went further. At the national policy forum in Nottingham, he cited the failure to win Uxbridge as evidence that ‘there is still a long way to go’, concluding that, ‘We are doing something very wrong if policies put forward by the Labour party end up on each and every Tory leaflet. We’ve got to face up to that and learn the lessons.’

ULEZ is a major issue in Uxbridge because it’s particular to that constituency. So, to extrapolate its effect on a General Election, particularly when you have conflicting polling from the same night, seems illogical.

Starmer’s discomfiture with Sadiq Khan’s policy seems only to have arisen after the Uxbridge result and to have quickly gathered steam. ULEZ is a public health measure to address poor quality air.

The policy was, in fact, mandated by the Conservative government as part of Transport for London’s bail-out conditions during the pandemic.

Letter to Sadiq Khan from Grant Shapps

In the black and white reductionism of the Culture War, however, it falls under ‘green stuff’ along with net zero and Just Stop Oil protestors.

A recent Tory attack line has been to link Labour, and Starmer particularly, with these activists in the belief that their unpopularity with swing voters provides some leverage. It is perhaps perceived vulnerability to this line that guided Starmer’s panicky response to results that seem to confirm Labour’s trajectory towards government.

Referencing Clause One of the party’s constitution, he emphasised the primacy of winning power in his offer to the electorate. He signalled how far he’s willing to go in order to achieve this by reflecting that, ‘We’ve got to ask ourselves seriously – are our priorities the priorities of working people or are they just baggage that shows them we don’t see the country through their eyes.’

Well, hold on, Sir Keir. Are we to equate the ‘priorities of working people’ with the views of less than 14,000 remaining Tory voters in a safe Tory constituency? I’m all for ambition but this is like Justin Bieber setting up shop at a Napalm Death convention and being horrified that his Tee-shirts don’t sell out.

These 14,000 voters have had Boris Johnson as their MP for the last eight years and yet still voted Tory. Personally, I wouldn’t be looking to them for collective wisdom.


We are used to the Labour offer being progressively trimmed to suit the presumed values of middle England. Last week it was confirmed that the two-child cap on benefits would be retained, for instance.

‘Caution’ is an understandable virtue in the wake of the governmental insanity we’ve endured for the last few years, but when it’s translated to prevarication on environmental matters, it betrays a rootlessness which, over time, may come to haunt those who insist on it.

Similarly, undermining the work of elected Labour politicians with devolved power risks alienating Labour support all over the UK.

The environment isn’t available for compromise. It isn’t the bond markets, or trade union leaders, or the EU Commission, it is a concrete reality with which we much reckon.

Nearly every measure we have at our disposal is annoying and expensive for all of us. Recycling is annoying; airport surcharges are annoying; congestion charges are annoying; heat pumps will be extra annoying. Resultingly, many among us are happy to hear from politicians who make all of the above sound as if it is an optional luxury to appease fanatics.


A truly cautious response to the results on Thursday would have been to accept that an incoming Labour government is inevitable and begin to prepare the electorate for the principled decisions it will have to make.

Chasing down every last Tory voter by evading reality is a short-sighted and reckless tactic that is storing up trouble for the future.

Labour supporters pointed to the 893 Green votes that could have swung Uxbridge their way. They should reflect on how many potential Green voters had held their noses to vote Labour.

Between metro mayors, the Senedd and the Scottish Parliament, there will be plenty of space for progressive opposition in the coming years, especially if the fundamental values upon which Labour politicians are elected to these seats of democracy are ignored by an Anglo-centric UK leadership.

We can sit in our 2007 Vauxhall Corsa shouting at the bus for as long as we like.

The climate isn’t reversing.

You can find more of The Shrewd View and the rest of Ben’s writing on Nation.Cymru by following his links on this map.

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Cathy Jones
Cathy Jones
9 months ago

Not going to vote for Kier Starmer’s Labour, not now, not ever, not for any reasons at all. Kier Starmer’s Labour is David Cameron’s Labour at best, Tonu Blair’s with evenless morals at worst. I’m not having anything to do with getting that lying scumbag into office. Greeen get my vote even if it’s wasted…because one thing that I have noticed about the attitude of Starmers Labour is the lack of intelligence and gratitude being shown by that shower of s***e…as well as the nasty authoritarianism that runs through them all like the worlds turdiest tasting stick of rock.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
9 months ago

Only the naive are foolish to trust a word sinister Blue Labour leader Keir Starmer says the nearer we get to a possible general election. Already he’s reneged on scrapping tuition fees. He’s sacked his deputy Angela Reyner’s partner for daring to show support for striking rail workers picketing forgetting Labour was founded by trade unionists in 1900 and are funded by the very workers they trample on to get to Westminster power. And don’t think UK Labour in government things will change for the better. There’s a distinct possibility Keir Starmer will continue Tory policies for the first term… Read more »

9 months ago
Reply to  Y Cymro

One cow in Zion is worth more than all the MPs in the Commons. Or something like that.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
9 months ago
Reply to  Glwyo

The hypocrisy of Keir Starmer is there for all to see. Three words. The Labour files. It gives the Stepford Wives a run for their money. Watch it. Very sinister. I know FM Mark Drakeford naively thinks Blue Labour in government will respect Welsh devolution and give Wales the powers denied by the past Tories governments , but nothing so far has convinced me that Starmer will devolved any powers already enjoyed by England, Scotland and Northern Ireland that’s denied only to Wales such as policing & Criminal Justice. And If my memory serves me correctly. The only mention of… Read more »

9 months ago

Starmer is the most unprincipled leader Labour has ever had. He has dumped on anything which he supposedly once believed in whenever he meets a whiff of resistance. It is a sign of a weak, unconfident leader that they can’t cope with differing views. He is flip-flopping on every policy and he hasn’t even got power yet? What will he be like if he gets power? Chaotically changing every time the wind blows in a different direction does not bode well if he becomes PM.

Thomas Pennant
Thomas Pennant
9 months ago

The writer of this article betrays a complete lack of awareness of the absolutely ruinous impact that the pursuit of Net Zero will have on the welfare, security and prosperity of people in this country.

9 months ago

Old fashioned Labour triangulation at work again. Cosy up to the enemy to reduce their attack lines and before you know it your policies and thrust of government is very close to where ….David Cameron was!

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