Rishi Sunak’s drive to survive: are pro-car pledges a ‘vote magnet’?

Rishi Sunak has ordered a review of low-traffic neighbourhoods in England in the latest of a series of pro-motorist moves being seen as a bid to shore up Tory support among voters.

“A sharpening debate on green policies” is taking place in Westminster, said the BBC. The Tories’ victory in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election earlier this month was seen by both Labour and the Conservatives as a sign that green policies may prove a vote loser at the next general election

During the first Conservative leadership race last summer, Sunak promised to “stop the war on motorists once and for all” if he became the UK’s prime minister. He “is now beginning to deliver on his promise”, said The Telegraph

‘Anti-car’ policies are ‘electoral poison’

As the government makes a “headlong dash” to reach the UK’s net zero target, “ordinary motorists” are bearing the brunt of environmental schemes, said The Sun. Buying a new electric car is “no problem” for “woke politicians and campaigners”, but “it is those least able to afford it who are being hit hardest by punitive green policies”.  

Low-traffic neighbourhoods are “one of the many pernicious anti-motorist schemes dreamt up by radical Left-wing urbanists and inexplicably endorsed by supposedly centre-Right politicians”, said The Telegraph.

And the 2030 target for eliminating the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles is “a car-crash policy that is coming down the road at breakneck speed”, said The Sun. More than 40 MPs have called on the PM to delay the measure to 2035, in line with the EU’s target.

Sunak “has shown he is not afraid to challenge the illiberal, anti-car agenda”, and is “publicly and explicitly standing up for Britain’s motorists”, said The Telegraph. “Anti-car policies” are “electoral poison” – and “profoundly un-Conservative”. Tackling pollution “needs to be done through new technologies, not coercion”. 

‘Frantic Tories’ are the ‘real story’

In the Uxbridge by-election, the Conservative Party “capitalised on voters’ anger” at Sadiq Khan’s plans to extend London’s ultra-low-emission zone, which proved “a key factor in their victory” over Labour, said the BBC. The prime minister urged the capital’s mayor to “think twice” about the plan. 

Yet “remarkable strides have been made” in tackling the city’s vehicle emissions since 2000 by “elected mayors from both main political parties”, said Phineas Harper, chief executive of charity Open City, in The Guardian. “From the Great Stink to the Great Smog”, public health emergencies have “prompted ambitious anti-pollution measures” in London, “gradually transforming the capital for the better”.

“Tory spin doctors” are now using Labour’s by-election defeat to claim plans to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2030 “spell electoral suicide”. But “the real story”, said Harper, is that “increasingly frantic Tories are trying to confect a new car-centre culture war” after a “lacklustre” result in Uxbridge, a seat they held by “just 495 votes”. 

“The Tories think their war on traffic rules is a vote magnet,” said The Guardian. True, opposing traffic restrictions may be “popular with a vocal minority of disgruntled drivers”, but it “is simply not a big vote-winner”. 

With the Conservative Party “trailing” Labour in the polls, “increasingly frantic Tory activists are employing desperate tactics”. Keir Starmer’s party “must not allow itself to be drawn in to this specious new breed of Tory identity politics”.

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