A Political Football
The expansion of the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to the outer London boroughs has become a political football for Tories and Labour. The LibDem response to this has been clear, and responsible. We need cleaner air for everyone’s sake, not least our childrens’. But environmental change, however desirable, will only happen if people support it. It cannot simply make the lives of ordinary people worse.
LibDems have therefore been keen properly to mitigate the impact of ULEZ. A LibDem motion was passed in the London Assembly to double scrappage funding and improve bus services in the outer boroughs. Now the Labour Party have used the mayoralty to get that motion overturned. That will increase the likelihood that ULEZ will fail. The LibDems have also managed to secure a London Assembly motion passed calling on Government to increase funding for scrappage and public transport, as they have for Birmingham, Greater Manchester, and Portsmouth.
It remains to be seen if the Government and the Mayor can manage to do what is right for London, or whether this important issue will continue to be kicked around for party advantage.
Why do I support the LibDems?
Let’s face it, we are a small party in Harrow. As the recently elected Chair for the LibDems in Harrow, I want to make our country a place we want to live and thrive in. So we must go back to running this nation from the moderate and reasonable centre, not from the extreme right of Toryism or the extreme left of Labourism.
We should go back to that traditional British pragmatism, which has served us so well. The LibDems are the best placed and only party to offer voters this future.
We cannot move on by simply trying to recreate the past, or rather an imagined past, no matter how much it suits our nostalgia. The world is not what it was in past decades. We must deal with the world as it is now.
That means dealing with climate change, whose effects become daily more apparent, in a determined but realistic way, retaining democratic support for measures which at times, it is impossible to deny, will inconvenience some individuals.
It means at a national level not opening new coal mines, and in Harrow not encouraging greater car use.
It means pursuing pragmatic economic policies which provide good jobs and good incomes, and which will finance the public services we all want.
Creating a dynamic economy involves getting a lot of things right, rather like conducting an orchestra. Good education, appropriate investment incentives, a labour force with the right skills, easy access to markets, first class infrastructure and stable government are all essential.
The present Government is presiding over declining investment because, as a result of Brexit, we have much less access to markets, and we no longer can efficiently draw on talent to meet anyworkforce shortages. Simply changing taxation or allowing bankers to take bigger risks (a dubious endeavour in itself) is just one impediment.
I want to re-join the EU, and the LibDems are the only party committed to that. But that will not happen quickly and will require an unequivocal commitment from the UK to membership.
Leaving the EU has damaged our economy (as have Covid and Putin) and will do so increasingly as it is fully implemented (for example we are yet to introduce our own customs controls on imported goods). Brexit has weakened our influence in Europe and the world at a time when it is more needed than ever. Our way of life is threatened by Putin’s evil war in Ukraine. We need greater European solidarity not less.
Finally, our constitution is creaking. The gentlemanly conventions of the 19th century are no longer sufficient. MPs are now ultra-partisan and rarely change party or even listen to the other party at all. If we are to get back a pragmatic Parliament, we need proportional representation. And we need a reformed house of Lords which can help bind the varied parts of the UK.
None of this is or will be easy. But the LibDems are the only way forward.
Which one better protects the vulnerable?
The cash strapped Conservative Harrow Council, which cannot afford decent street cleaning or weed removal from pavements, is spending an estimated £400,000 (according to local media) on legal fees to take on Transport for London (TfL) over its plans to extend the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) to the whole of greater London. It wants Harrow excluded from the zone.
This is a waste of our money and a waste of the council tax we pay towards Greater London which will have to defend the issue. The only people who are rubbing their hands with glee are lawyers.
Win or lose, Harrow runs the risk of being again (the previous Labour administration were already on the naughty step) the loser when it comes toTfL money. TfL will find reasons not to give funding to Harrow.
Our view is that “clean air is vital to the whole community,” and especially so to children who do not have the vote. Pollution kills. And just because the pollution is invisible, it does not mean it is not deadly.
And even if the council wins, it will be pyrrhic. Besides TfL putting its cameras up on traffic lights and elsewhere, all this could do is to move the border. Already, those with polluting cars and vans are charged within the North/South Circular Roads. They could end up facing a charge when going into Brent, Ealing and other near-by boroughs.
The Tories claim they support clean air but are fighting a measure which endeavours to improve air quality. That risks our children’s very lives.
LibDems have throughout campaigned for a way forward which will deliver better health yet retain the support of the minority who still own polluting vehicles.
LibDem members of the London Assembly have secured a package doubling the size of the scrappage scheme with an additional £100 million and allowing Blue Badge holders to apply, as well as investing £25 million in bus services in Outer London, including demand-responsive buses such as Go Sutton Bus.
Harrow Tories are making much of “poverty” and the “cost of living crisis”. But they and their allies in Westminster helped cause this.
We urge Harrow Tories not to grandstand and enrich lawyers at Harrow Council Taxpayers’ expense but to try to find a sensible compromise for the good of the health of all.