After a week in which Rishi Sunak rowed back on the UK’s climate commitments and delayed a ban on petrol cars, it seems he is making a pitch to drivers a key part of his pre-election campaign. Here are the wedge issues the Tories are expected to deploy against Labour to paint them as “anti-motorist”:

Electric cars

Sunak’s controversial delaying of climate pledges was a huge moment and the headline was the delay to banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by five years to 2035. While it led to international condemnation, it allows the Tories to attack Labour as the party who will force voters to buy electric cars sooner - Sunak has already signalled that he wants to turn it into a cost of living issue. Labour has said it will reinstate the ban should it win the next election and has already argued businesses have been investing with that target in mind.

The 20mph limit in Wales

Sunak has cited the decision by the Welsh Labour-run administration to make the speed limit in built-up areas 20mph as an example of the anti-motorist instincts of Starmer’s party. The Tories are likely to claim Labour will roll out the move nationwide, though it has no plans to do so. The move was introduced to reduce deaths and noise and encourage people to walk or cycle. However, it has proved to be a controversial measure and large petitions have been run opposing it. The Tories have previously attempted to attack Labour based on its performance in Wales, including on NHS waiting times.


It was the narrow Tory win in the Uxbridge by-election, largely based on its opposition to the extension of London’s ultra-low emission zone (Ulez), that appears to have led to the new pro-car strategy from Sunak. Despite winning the contest by less than 500 votes, it continues to shape No 10 thinking. Labour’s London mayor Sadiq Khan has continued to defend the policy and with similar schemes being planned in cities across the country, it is another area in which the Tories will seek some electoral advantage. Again, there are trade offs – even in London, there is significant support for Ulez given concerns about air quality.

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

In some communities, the presence of low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) has become a new front in the political culture wars. Sunak has already ordered a review of the schemes as he searches for another political wedge to use against Starmer and further appeal to drivers. The prime minister has let it be known he is worried about the proliferation of LTNs in the wake of the Covid pandemic. They are now in places such as Bristol, Oxford, Manchester and Birmingham. They are hated by some drivers, but also have a lot of support where they reduce traffic around schools.

2023-09-24T10:48:09Z dg43tfdfdgfd