Sir Keir Starmer has warned that Labour must “learn the lesson” of seeing a party policy used against it following a narrow defeat in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election.
The Labour leader said there was “something very wrong” when a party policy was on “each and every Tory leaflet” following attacks on London mayor Sadiq Khan’s plan to expand the capital’s ultra low emission zone (Ulez), which applies a charge for the most polluting vehicles.
Addressing the party’s national policy forum in Nottingham, Sir Keir said that, while the by-election win in Selby and Ainsty should give Labour “every reason to be confident” ahead of a general election, the Uxbridge and South Ruislip result demonstrated that there “is still a long way to go”.
Labour overturned a 20,000 majority to win the Selby seat in north Yorkshire with a 23.7 percentage points swing away from the Conservatives – the second largest produced by Labour at a by-election since 1945.
But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives hanging on in Boris Johnson’s old Uxbridge seat has sparked debates within both the Tories and Labour on their green policy stance.
Sir Keir told the forum on Saturday: “That result in Uxbridge demonstrates there is never any reason to be complacent and never a reason to rest on our laurels.
“It is a reminder that in an election, policy matters.
“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 to learn the lesson.”
Following the byelection result in west London on Friday, Sir Keir said City Hall’s Mr Khan should “reflect” on the expansion of Ulez after new Tory MP Steve Tuckwell painted the vote as a referendum on the toll.
Labour candidate Danny Beales, who cut the Tory majority from 7,200 to less than 500 votes, had called for Ulez’s expansion to every London borough to be delayed during the campaign.
According to HuffPost, Mr Beales told Labour’s policy forum that the environmental proposal designed to cut air pollution “is bad policy”.
Mr Khan plans next month, pending a court challenge, to widen the £12.50 daily charge for cars which fail to meet emissions standards to beyond the capital’s north and south circular roads.
Mr Beales reportedly told the conference that “a single policy cut us off at the knees” and “acted as a dead-weight” when canvassing for votes ahead of Thursday’s polling day.
“You cannot tell working people you are laser-focused on the cost of living, on the difficulties facing them, on making life easier and then also penalise them simply for driving their car to work,” Mr Beales reportedly said.