In a surprising turn of events, an ally of Mayor Sadiq Khan finds himself in hot water due to his backing of the Ulez expansion, potentially jeopardising his City Hall position.
The Ulez Controversy
Onkar Sahota, a long-standing member of the London Assembly, is currently grappling with a revolt from certain Labour activists who vehemently oppose the recent extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (Ulez) to cover the Greater London boundary. This expansion, implemented just last month, has stirred significant unrest within the party.
Dr. Sahota, who also practises as a GP in Hanwell and Southall, has remained resolute in his support for the Ulez expansion. However, he has also hinted at a potential shift in his political trajectory. He stated that if he perceives a loss of grassroots support in his West London constituency, he will reconsider his plans to stand for re-election in May next year.
The Assembly’s Fate
All 25 seats on the London Assembly are due for re-election simultaneously with the mayoral elections next year. Assembly members, including Dr. Sahota, typically serve four-year terms and earn an annual salary of £60,416.
A Thorn in Labour’s Side
This rebellion within Labour is the latest in a series of challenges facing the party in West London. Earlier this year, the Ulez expansion was cited as a factor in Labour’s inability to secure the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, a seat previously held by Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Candidate Danny Beales, during his campaign, openly criticised the Ulez expansion, labelling it “bad policy” and a “dead weight” on his electoral prospects. Additionally, last year, the Labour group on Hillingdon council expressed opposition to the Ulez expansion.
Path to Re-selection
The decision on whether to initiate a vote on Dr. Sahota’s reelection or allow him to run unopposed for the assembly next May rests with the Labour constituency associations and affiliated organisations, including trade unions. It’s important to note that only five of the six constituency associations can participate, as the Ealing Southall association remains suspended since their 2019 vote against sitting Labour MP Virendra Sharma.
A Storied Career
Dr. Sahota secured his assembly seat in 2012, defeating Richard Barnes, who was then Deputy Mayor under Boris Johnson’s administration. He went on to retain the seat in 2021 with a substantial majority of 8,242 votes over the Conservative candidate. Currently serving as the Labour health spokesman on the assembly, Dr. Sahota remains confident that his stance on the Ulez expansion aligns with the best interests of the majority of his constituents.
This unfolding controversy highlights the challenges faced by politicians in navigating divisive policy decisions within their own party and the potential consequences it may have on their political careers.