Politics latest: Sadiq Khan says 14 times he’s ‘listening’ on ULEZ; chancellor pushed on compensation for victims of contaminated blood scandal


Politics latest: Sadiq Khan says 14 times he's 'listening' on ULEZ; chancellor pushed on compensation for victims of contaminated blood scandal

 Key points
    High Court rules expansion of London’s ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) is lawfulWhat is ULEZ – and why has it proven controversial?Sadiq Khan says decision to expand ULEZ ‘not taken lightly’ and he’s ‘listening’ to concernsCouncils who brought legal challenge vow to continue fightRob Powell: ULEZ has cleared a legal hurdle, but political ones remainChancellor tells Infected Blood Inquiry ‘no decisions’ have been made on level of compensation or how it will be fundedLive reporting by Faith Ridler

18:00:01 Number of Conservative MPs stepping down at next election largest since 1997

By Josh Gafson, Sky News journalist

More Conservative MPs have announced they are standing down at the next general election than at any poll since 1997.

So far, 44 Tory MPs have said they won’t stand for re-election, which data from the House of Commons Library shows is more than any other election since Labour’s landslide victory in 1997.

The data also shows more than three times the number of Conservative MPs are stepping aside compared to the 2017 election, and this number is likely to grow with the next election not expected to be held until autumn next year.

In 1997, 75 Tory MPs stood down ahead of the general election which gave Labour the biggest parliamentary majority on record with 179 MPs, and ended the Conservatives’ 18-year spell in power.

A total of 22 Tory MPs stood down in 2001, 16 in 2005, and 35 in 2010.

More recently, Boris Johnson’s snap election in 2019 resulted in 41 Tory MPs standing down before the vote, however nine of them were expelled from the party three months before after rebelling against the government in a Brexit vote.

With approximately 61% of all the MPs standing down at the next election being Conservative, this is just below the 1997 election figure, where 64% of the total number of MPs who didn’t seek re-election were Tory.

However, in the run-up to the 1997 election, not only were the Conservatives in government during a time of economic uncertainty, they were also facing significant boundary changes – a situation similar to one the Tories are currently facing.

Sky News’ live polling tracker shows that on average, the Conservatives are currently 18 points behind Labour in the polls, so trying to prevent a 1997-style result for the Tories will prove to be a challenge.

‘A pretty intense decade in politics’

One senior Conservative MP who is standing down told Sky News the “rapid succession of changes” is why he thinks so many of his colleagues are not seeking re-election: “It’s been a pretty intense decade in politics, there’s been a lot that’s happened with the coalition, Brexit, and then COVID, as well as an awful lot of prime ministers.

“I think the rapid succession of changes in regime means there are quite a lot of colleagues who feel that things have moved on from them,” he said.

Another Tory MP who is not seeking re-election said that whilst they’re relieved the “chaos” of the last 18 months is over, a large number of MPs have “had enough” with politics and are “tired”.

Average age of MPs stepping down

The average age of the 44 Conservative MPs currently standing down is 55, with just under one-third below the age of 50.

This is in contrast to the 14 Labour MPs stepping down, who have an average age of 70, and the eight SNP MPs who are aren’t seeking re-election with an average age of 57.

One Tory MP suggests this discrepancy is a result of the boundary changes that will be in place from the next election: “There’s quite a lot of people whose seats have been wrecked by the boundary changes that may try and find somewhere else to fight, or not at all,” he said.

17:45:01 ‘No end in sight’ for flat owners still trapped in unsellable homes despite major repair scheme

Flat owners caught up in the cladding crisis say they will remain trapped in unsellable homes despite a major new scheme to help fund repairs.

The long-awaited Cladding Safety Scheme (CSS) opened this week and will provide £5bn to fix medium-rise tower blocks with flammable external walls, in cases where the developer cannot be traced.

It has been billed by the government as the “biggest intervention on building safety to date” and aims to protect leaseholders from the expensive costs of remediating their properties that have emerged since the Grenfell Tower disaster.

But Lisa Petty, who is facing a £21,000 bill, told Sky News the announcement will “have absolutely no bearing on my situation”.

The 42-year-old lives in a building in Romford, Essex, with the same type of ACM cladding blamed on the rapid spread of the deadly fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017, which killed 72 people.

Because the building is less than 11 metres in height, it does not qualify for government funding.

You can read more from our political reporter Faye Brown here:

17:30:01 ‘Hugely disappointed’: How councils reacted to High Court loss on ULEZ challenge

Five Conservative-run councils launched legal action back in February over the extension of London’s ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ), which is due to come into force on 29 August.

They lost this challenge on all three counts today.

Here’s what each council had to say in the aftermath of the decision:

London Borough of Bexley

Baroness O’Neill, leader of the council, said: “I’m extremely disappointed at the outcome of the judicial review and the impact it will have on our residents and businesses. 

“They have told us time and time again how worried they were about ULEZ which was why we took this action on their behalf.   

“The judge may have said that the mayor has the legal right to implement the scheme but, as we saw last week, there is also a moral judgment to consider. 

“Even senior supporters of the mayor have voiced their concerns around the expansion of this scheme.”

Hillingdon Council

Ian Edwards, leader of Hillingdon Council, said: “I am hugely disappointed for our residents and businesses and I call on the Mayor of London to further reflect on his plans. 

“Many thousands of low-income earners, vulnerable people ordinary workers and small businesses who are the beating heart of our borough will have to shoulder further costs which they cannot afford. It will cause even greater financial hardship and for some it will cause the loss of business or employment. 

“We will continue our fight on behalf of our residents and business through parliament and at next year’s mayoral election.”

Bromley Council

Colin Smith, leader of Bromley Council, said: “Today’s decision cannot be disguised as anything other than bitter disappointment for motorists in general, traders who will now have to consider ceasing business and laying off staff, those who will now have to change jobs and, most desperately of all, people who will no longer be able to support vital care networks for vulnerable people across the whole of outer London in particular.”

He added: “This is not the end of the matter and this battle will continue.”

London Borough of Harrow

Paul Osborn, the council leader, said: “This is not the outcome we were hoping for and is hugely disappointing. 

“It is a sad day for our residents and businesses who are worried about the impact the expansion will have on them when it comes into force in August.  

“I firmly believe that ULEZ expansion is the wrong scheme for outer London. 

“We had an arguable case, and the fact that we got this far in our challenge against this unpopular scheme shows that we were right to proceed.”

He added: “Unfortunately, the mayor will push ahead with his plans. 

“I will continue to speak up for our residents on the expansion of ULEZ and will press the government to give us the power to stop this expansion to our borough.”

Surrey County Council

Tim Oliver, leader of Surrey County Council, said: “Whilst we respect today’s court decision, it is incredibly disappointing.   

“This has always been about protecting Surrey residents, many of whom will now be significantly socially and financially impacted by the mayor’s decision as they go about essential, everyday journeys, without any mitigation in place to minimise this.    

“Our concerns, which have never been addressed by the mayor despite our continued efforts, forced these legal proceedings to ensure we did all we possibly could to have the voice of our residents heard.”

17:15:01 What is ULEZ – and why has it proven controversial?

As we’ve been reporting this morning, the High Court has ruled that London mayor Sadiq Khan’s plan to expand the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) to the capital’s outer boroughs is lawful.

Five Conservative-run councils launched legal action back in February over the extension, which is due to come into force on 29 August.

The plan has been in the news recently since the expansion was blamed for Labour narrowly losing the Uxbridge by-election last week.

Sir Keir Starmer has since agreed that ULEZ policy is likely to blame, while Mr Khan is still committed to the expansion.

So what is the controversial policy about?

The ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ for short) is an area of London in which polluting vehicles have to pay to enter. 

It’s similar to the congestion charge zone, but covers a bigger area, and means older petrol or diesel cars will have to pay TfL each day that they cross into or move within the zone. 

The ULEZ was launched in central London in 2019, and later expanded up to the edge of the North and South Circular roads. 

Now, Mr Khan is planning to expand it again across all 33 London boroughs.

The London mayor says the policy is all about cleaning up London’s air, and has frequently quoted research from Imperial College estimating between 3,600 and 4,100 premature deaths occur in the capital in part due to poor air quality. 

However, Imperial later concluded the ULEZ was responsible for “only small improvements in air quality” and that it was not effective enough on its own. 

When the expansion comes into force, a further 700,000 drivers in London will have to pay the £12.50 levy, according to the RAC – although these figures have been disputed by the mayor’s office, which says about 200,000 more drivers will have to pay. 

The policy was opposed by five Conservative-led councils, and some have argued it will impact low-income Londoners and those who rely on their cars for work. 

A £110m scrappage scheme was opened in January, offering low-income Londoners a £2,000 grant to scrap their car, or to help them buy one that complies with the ULEZ rules.

17:00:01 Boost for Khan as councils fail in High Court challenge against ULEZ

The big political news of the day is a High Court ruling that the expansion of London’s ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) to the capital’s outer boroughs is lawful.

Five Conservative-run councils had launched legal action back in February over the expansion.

The scheme will come into force from 29 August and see the drivers of the most polluting vehicles charged £12.50 a day to use them.

The hope of those behind the plan is it will incentivise people to use cleaner transport alternatives and, as a result, help improve the city’s air quality.

Transport for London has claimed only a small number of people will be impacted, with nine out of 10 vehicles compliant with ULEZ requirements.

But the councils challenged the rollout in the courts, saying the capital’s Labour mayor, Sadiq Khan, had exceeded his legal powers with such a large expansion of the scheme.

But in a boost for Mr Khan, the councils failed in their legal challenge.

Read more on this story here from political reporters Jennifer Scott and Alex Rogers:

16:37:46 Hunt says ‘every day we take longer than necessary is a day too long’

The chancellor says “every day we take longer than necessary is a day too long”.

“The refusal to accept there was any state responsibility in this and therefore no moral justification for compensation most certainly put salt in the wounds of people who were already having an unbelievably tough life as a result of this scandal. 

“We do have a moral duty to resolve this as quickly as we possibly can.”

That brings to an end the chancellor’s appearance.

Sir Brian Langstaff, who is chairing the inquiry, thanks Mr Hunt for the “tone” of his evidence.

The hearing has now ended for the day.

16:30:44 Campaign group unhappy with Hunt’s evidence to Infected Blood Inquiry

A campaign group has said Jeremy Hunt’s failure to offer details on compensation for those affected by the contaminated blood scandal has left them “disheartened beyond words”.

Responding to the chancellor’s evidence to the official inquiry, Factor 8 director Jason Evans said: “Today, as a community, we grapple with an amplified sense of sadness and disillusionment.

“No new information or timetable was given to the distressed victims and mourning families entangled in the infected blood scandal.

“Despite the pressing need for immediate acceptance of the inquiry’s recommendations, Hunt squandered this decisive opportunity to expedite the pursuit of justice for the aggrieved victims and their families.

“We are disheartened beyond words. His inaction is a bitter sting, a stark reminder of unfulfilled promises.”

16:10:01 ‘Democracy gone wrong’: Gina Miller criticises Monzo for closing bank account

Businesswoman and aspiring MP Gina Miller has said Monzo Bank’s decision to close one of her accounts is a case of “democracy gone wrong”.

Ms Miller, the legal activist who challenged the government’s handling of Brexit, told Sky News that Monzo Bank had written to her on 13 July to explain that her account for her True and Fair Party would be closed in September without providing an explanation.

However, the bank later confirmed it did not allow political party accounts and the initial decision to open it had been made in error.

Read more from political reporter Alex Rogers here:

16:00:01 Khan may be in ‘listening mode’ on ULEZ – but he isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers

He has been weaponised by the Conservative Party, tied to the controversial ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) policy and Labour’s by-election loss in Uxbridge: but today Sadiq Khan cut a defiant figure, boosted by a High Court decision to back ULEZ expansion and deny a challenge by five Conservative councils.

The mayor of London wouldn’t be drawn on pressure to pause the scheme, telling Sky News: “We will be expanding ULEZ on 29 August.”

Mr Khan’s tone though has softened, he clearly had a message to get across: “I am listening to Londoners” he told me 14 times, and said the ULEZ expansion had been “a difficult decision”.

When it came to accepting any political or personal responsibility for ULEZ’s impact on the result in Uxbridge which Sir Keir Starmer said was “the reason we lost the by-election”, Mr Khan’s answers were evasive.

I asked him five times if he accepted there had been any political cost at the ballot box. Each time he repeated that difficult decisions had to be made. 

He said: “For me clean air isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. Nobody would accept dirty water, why should we accept dirty air?”

But the mayor appears to be at odds with the Labour leader, who has said the policy needs to be “reflected on”. 

Even Tony Blair waded in this week, warning against asking the public to do too much to tackle climate change. 

Mr Khan may be in “listening” mode, but he obviously isn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers in his own party to clean up London’s air.

The hope in City Hall may be that by pushing the expansion through quickly, by next spring the controversy will have lifted, and any public anger soothed in time for the mayoral election. 

What’s clear is that the Conservatives have spotted an opportunity, with the new Uxbridge MP saying today that the “case in the court of public opinion has certainly been lost”. 

As a general election slowly creeps into view, the tension between green policies and the cost of living is in the spotlight and already becoming an election battleground beyond London.

15:40:16 Hunt says he cannot offer guarantees on compensation for victims of contaminated blood scandal

A letter is read to Jeremy Hunt from Andy Burnham, in which the chancellor is urged to show the victims of the infected blood scandal that he is “still an ally”.

In it, he is asked to confirm that money has been earmarked for compensation and that a compensation scheme will be ready for the conclusion of the inquiry.

He indicates he is unable to offer such guarantees because, he says, “the decisions have not been made yet”.

“I appreciate that this is a very frustrating process,” he says.

He adds that the current government’s stance is “different” to those of its predecessors and that “you will see that in the actions that this government takes going forward”.

“We are closer to justice… I hope we can resolve this as soon as possible.”

The inquiry will now break for 40 minutes.

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