KEIR Starmer has been panned as he has once again backtracked on a key Labour commitment to introduce clean air zones.

According to reports, the Labour leader has U-turned on the commitment following the party’s failure to win the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election.

The loss was largely blamed on London mayor Sadiq Khan vowing to press ahead with the plans to expand on his ultra-low emissions zone (Ulez) project.

The scheme charges drivers money based on their vehicle’s emissions, with numerous demonstrations taking place in protest.

READ MORE: SNP conference set to debate 'controversial' issues and more

Rolling out clean air zones featured among Labour’s transport pledges in an 86-page draft policy handbook which was debated at the party’s National Policy Forum last month.

The original document stated: “Labour supports the principle of clean air zones and recognises the huge damage to human health caused by air pollution and the damages to our climate caused by carbon emissions from polluting vehicles.

“However, they must be phased in carefully, mindful of the impacts on small businesses and low-paid workers and should be accompanied with a just transition plan to enable people to switch affordably to low-emission vehicles.”

The National: A London bus passes an information sign for the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) in London. Mayor Sadiq Khan intends to extend Ulez to all of London's boroughs, enlarging it beyond the North and South Circular roads. Once in place drivers in outer

However, The Telegraph now reports that the paragraph was scrapped during the forum, with a Labour source telling the newspaper: “Clean air zones are Conservative government policy. The Tories are the ones who have pushed councils to introduce them.

“Labour is not in favour of extra burdens on drivers during a Tory-made cost of living crisis.

“Labour’s priority is growing the economy to improve living standards and tackle the cost of living crisis, not pushing up costs for hard-working families.

READ MORE: 'Rebuttal unit' to respond to misleading claims about independence

“We are committed to tackling air pollution and we will introduce a Clean Air Act, but we will always look at options for reducing air pollution which do not put the burden on hard-working families.”

The forum took place just days after Labour failed to win the by-election which has divided people in London since it was first introduced in April 2019.

Starmer has faced criticism for his U-turn, including from Scotland’s Net Zero Secretary Màiri McAllan (below) who said: “Air pollution disproportionately harms the most vulnerable in society – the very young, older people, those with underlying health conditions.

The National:

“As ScotGov pursues the cleanest air in Europe, it’s incredible that Labour appear willing to harm people and planet for power.”

Elsewhere, SNP MSP James Dornan said: “Would it not make sense for Starmer to simply say ‘we’ll change nothing but we’ll be a bit nicer and less cruel than the Tories’?

“It would be more honest and less confusing.”

Khan has not commented on the policy change but the move has left Labour divided. 

READ MORE: ‘People pick up on flip-flopping from Labour’, says Katy Loudon

Rachael Maskell, the Labour MP for York Central and former shadow environment secretary, told The Telegraph: “I think Sadiq Khan called it right when he said we wouldn’t accept dirty water, so why accept dirty air?

“I would say it’s absolutely essential that we make those interventions that make a difference.”

She added: “A Ulez cannot be introduced without proper mitigation – we know that the cost of electric cars is prohibitive. But we’ve got to address the practical reality and that’s by putting green alternatives forward.

The National: Khan has not yet commented on the latest U-turnKhan has not yet commented on the latest U-turn

“We’ve got to remember it is people living in the most deprived areas that are most affected by poor air quality. This goes to an essential value of Labour and we’ve got to seriously look at this before coming to office, because the consequences of not doing so will mean people could die unnecessarily.”

Labour’s unsuccessful candidate Danny Beales told the NPF that Ulez had “cut us off at the knees” while Starmer said it was important to “face up” to the electoral damage.

Starmer said: “In an election, policy matters. And we are doing something very wrong if policies put forward by the Labour Party end up on each and every Tory leaflet.”