Labour’s failure to take Boris Johnson’s former seat is a reminder that “policy matters”, Sir Keir Starmer has said – after the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) by London mayor Sadiq Khan was blamed for the narrow loss.
The opposition leader told activists that the Conservatives hanging on to Uxbridge and South Ruislip showed there was “never any reason to be complacent and never a reason to rest on our laurels”.
It was also a reminder “there’s still a long way to go”, he warned – pointing out there was “something very wrong” when a party policy was on “each and every Tory leaflet”.
Sir Keir has already urged Sadiq Khan to “reflect” on his ULEZ scheme, which is being held widely responsible for missing out on the west London constituency.
Mr Khan was standing by his plan on Friday, although said he would monitor it.
The Conservatives clung on to Uxbridge by just a few hundred votes – massively down on the 7,210 majority that Mr Johnson won less than four years ago – tapping into anger over the move to extend the £12.50 daily charge on cars that do not meet emissions standards.
Newly elected Conservative MP Steve Tuckwell’s victory was the one piece of good news for Rishi Sunak after his party lost the former safe seats of Selby and Ainsty, and Somerton and Frome.
Addressing Labour’s national policy forum in Nottingham, Sir Keir said: “That result in Uxbridge demonstrates there is never any reason to be complacent and never a reason to rest on our laurels.
“It is 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.”
Sir Keir also said Labour needed to show “historic levels of effort, discipline and focus” as he warned of further Conservative attacks in the wake of the Uxbridge by-election campaign.
In an apparent reference to a row this week over his refusal to scrap the two-child cap on benefits, he said tackling child poverty and social injustice would be a “massive part” of his mission for government – but commitments could not be unfunded.
Sir Keir said: “We have to go about this step by step, shoulder to shoulder.
“It is a long-term project, a project that will only be realised with credibility and discipline, that understands that spending commitments must always be funded.
“And because they must always be funded, that you can’t just keep piling them on.”
He added: “The Tories are watching us, looking for us to slip up.
“Make no mistake – they’ve given up on government, they’ve got no record to defend.
“So next year, whenever that election comes, we know how they will fight it – that is the lesson of Uxbridge.
“All they can do now is oppose Labour, attack our plans, distract from their record.
“So we have to be ready in everything we do, starting today.”