Will Sunak’s ‘plan for motorists’ cut through to local votes?

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Good morning. Can Rishi Sunak’s “plan for motorists” turn around his party’s fortunes? He certainly hopes so. Some thoughts on whether he is right or not in today’s note.

Inside Politics is edited by Georgina Quach. Follow Stephen on X @stephenkb and please send gossip, thoughts and feedback to [email protected]

Chasing cars

Jim Pickard has the inside track on Sunak’s “Plan for Motorists”, which will form the centrepiece of Rishi Sunak’s speech to Tory party conference next week, as he bids to revive the Conservative party’s poll ratings and to move on from the rows over HS2.

Those measures will include a “pushback on low-traffic neighbourhood schemes and a crackdown on parking charges”. It is expected that there will be moves to tighten rules around the introduction of 20mph zones in England. It is also possible that local government will face further restrictions on how it spends money, with a ringfence on some local authority spending to ensure a proportion is allocated only to roads.

Will it work? There are three things worth noting here. The first is that we don’t have as much opinion polling to draw on as I would like. We have, as far as I can see, one YouGov poll on 20mph zones from last year showing pretty uniform rates of support across the country, with more supporting than opposing these measures.

Since that poll, the Labour government in Wales has introduced a countrywide 20mph default limit on roads where cars and pedestrians meet. We have one poll conducted this month by YouGov showing that more oppose than support that measure, and one poll by Redfield & Wilton showing the opposite.

So, really, make of that what you will. What I can draw upon are my own impressions from travelling the country talking to people and covering elections.

Second, it is, I think pretty well-understood that the measures being discussed are generally the business of local government. When I have been reporting on elections, or when I am off on one of my door-knocking excursions, even people who don’t vote — and even people who tell me they haven’t heard of Keir Starmer or, on one occasion, Sunak — know that their local traffic arrangements are the work of their local authority.

Opposing these schemes is often a favourite campaign argument of Conservative councillors. Although low-traffic neighbourhoods and clean air zones were projects of the Conservative government in Westminster under Boris Johnson, there has never been much enthusiasm for them among Conservative activists in the country. Instead, it has been Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors making the running on these schemes.

Yet one thing I have noticed is, elections to local councils generally become referendums on the government of the day, and how it is handling the big national issues, unless voters believe the local council has really, really, really messed up management of traffic in its jurisdiction. That was true of the Uxbridge by-election: it took place right before the introduction of a new charge for some drivers, at a time when it was widely thought the charge would apply to more cars than it did, and in a borough where the measure falls particularly heavily. As a result the Conservatives were able to hold one of their most stable seats very narrowly.

So it would make me very nervous indeed if I were a Labour MP in one of the handful of places where these traffic schemes have proved unpopular enough to change local election results, and given just how many seats Labour has to gain, that could make the difference between a Labour majority government and a Labour government in some kind of alliance with the Lib Dems.

But I would also be worried if I were a Conservative MP in the average marginal constituency, where Labour and Lib Dem enthusiasm for these schemes have not done much to stop them gaining council seats in recent elections.

Now try this

I cooked Marcella Hazan’s ragu recipe last night. It’s very good, freezes well and in general is exactly the kind of thing you want to cook before you vanish off to conference for a few days.

I’m hoping to see Passages in the cinema (fourth time lucky, right?) before heading to Manchester for the Conservative party conference — thank you for all your dining suggestions! However you spend it, have a wonderful weekend.

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Source: Financial Times

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