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What’s driving Howard Cox? We meet the anti-ULEZ campaigner from Kent running to be Mayor of London

Howard Cox has no time for ULEZ. Nor, for that matter, 20mph zones, low-traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), big cycle lanes or even speed bumps.

He supports fracking and takes climate change with something of a pinch of salt too. (“Climate change is always happening,” he says, “I just don't think there's a crisis. It is arrogant to think that we, as human beings, can make any difference to this planet.”)

Howard Cox has vowed to strip London of much of its traffic calming and anti-pollution measures
Howard Cox has vowed to strip London of much of its traffic calming and anti-pollution measures

He also regularly gets excrement posted through his Cranbrook letterbox and saw one prankster, during the fuel shortages a couple of years ago, list his home as a petrol station on Google with fuel available, leading to dozens of phone calls from desperate motorists.

And, in just six months’ time, it is possible he could find himself in a position where he has vowed to rid London of all its key anti-pollution and traffic calming measures.

Because Mr Cox, better known as the remarkable one-man-band behind the Fair Fuel UK lobby group, is in the running to be the next London Mayor.

“I'm not anti-cycling,” he’s quick to point out, “and I'm not anti cleaning up the air. I actually want to have clean fuel technology but you don't do it by hitting people in the pocket, particularly low-income families or small businesses.

“It's always been pretty difficult driving around London. We all know that. But it is now almost impossible. It's a deliberate attempt by Sadiq Khan to get rid of drivers and get rid of motorists. It's ridiculous.”

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan

And there, in a nutshell, is the stall around which he is seeking to appeal to the capital’s voters. His slogan is “Scrap ULEZ, cut crime, ditch Khan”. He wants, he says, to reach the nearly 60% of London voters who didn’t bother casting a vote back in 2021.

He is standing as the official Reform UK candidate – the party formerly known as The Brexit Party and formed by I’m A Celebrity's Nigel Farage. His trump card is one the Tories will have hoped they had all to themselves – fighting ULEZ.

The Ultra Low Emissions Zone – and more to the point its expansion this summer to engulf all of Greater London’s boroughs, bringing it onto Kent’s doorstep for the first time – has been hugely unpopular to many.

Labour’s Khan has faced a huge backlash as a result – an effigy of him was torched at this year’s Edenbridge Bonfire Society as a consequence. It has become one – albeit very localised – of the very few cracks in Labour’s armour as we approach the next General Election, but a significant one, nonetheless.

And with its tightly monitored perimeters seeing many now facing the £12.50 charge simply for visiting friends and family, ULEZ has proved about as popular as a Suella Braverman op-ed at the Sunak family breakfast table.

ULEZ was extended through Greater London this summer – bringing it to Kent’s borders for the first time
ULEZ was extended through Greater London this summer – bringing it to Kent’s borders for the first time

“Ten years ago,” says Mr Cox, “it was welcomed. It made sense to do things like that, but not now. Today we’ve got clean fuel technology. More and more people are driving electric vehicles, hybrids and diesel Euro 6 is cleaner than petrol.

“But it hurts the smaller sole trader, the electrician, the plumber and all those sorts of jobs where they can't carry their stuff on the Underground.

“I'd remove LTNs, 20mph limits, speed bumps, pinch points; I want London moving again. But, and let me make this very clear, any dangerous driving or bad driving I will clamp down on like a rocket. They should have the full force of the law against them. Everything should be focused on educating people, not hitting them in the pocket.”

Reform UK will be playing the ULEZ card and almost nothing but. It has other policies (they include the classic promise of “more bobbies on the beat” and a vow to tackle knife crime with instant custodial sentences and no let up in stop-and-search powers) but will anyone really see past the headline grabber?

So who better to front it than Howard Cox – a man who has made his name over the last decade or so as a hugely effective champion of the motorist? A man with a track record of standing up, fighting and winning.

The Mayor of London has control over the direction of Transport for London
The Mayor of London has control over the direction of Transport for London

If victorious, he is vowing the complete removal of ULEZ and the bulk of other traffic calming in the city, but also the refunding of all the fines so far dished out to motorists which have fallen foul of it.

Mind you, if you’re one of them, don’t count on that refund quite yet.

Howard Cox is, according to bookmaker William Hill, something of a long-shot. A 100-1 long-shot to be precise.

That makes him more likely to emerge victorious than, say, Count Binface – who stood at the Uxbridge by-election with a bin as a head (who is 1,000-1) but level with George Galloway. Sadiq Khan is 1-5 on to win.

“I'll be honest with you,” says Cox, 69, from his Kent home. “Obviously, I've got a massive uphill struggle to actually try and win.

Nigel Farage believes Howard Cox is a perfect candidate for London Mayor
Nigel Farage believes Howard Cox is a perfect candidate for London Mayor

“But I really couldn't bear what's going on with the Tory party any more.

“I’ve voted for them for 50 years, but now they are Tory in name only. I’m afraid the Tory government is not far off from being the Labour government in my opinion.”

As you can probably tell, this is an article where were we to unpick every point made and examine it, we could be here for several days. And Howard Cox talks A LOT. During the course of our conversation he barely takes a breath.

He’s friendly and pleasant throughout, only deviating when I try and get any sort of personal information out of him...swiftly bringing the topic back to London and, more often than not, the plight of the motorist.

But he does reveal how he was tricked out of a significant volume of cash, the tragic early loss of his father and how after years of fearing they could never have children, he and his wife were finally blessed with a daughter. More on all of that shortly.

Richard Tice and Nigel Farage persuaded Howard Cox, right, to run as Reform UK candidate
Richard Tice and Nigel Farage persuaded Howard Cox, right, to run as Reform UK candidate

“I'm not a right-wing, fascist Nazi or anything like that,” he tells me when I push him on just where he stands politically, “I'm simply just slightly right of centre.”

A fan of Margaret Thatcher, he admits he veered from the true blue path only once at the polls when he backed Tony Blair and New Labour in 1997 (“he was excellent at communication and marketing and I didn’t want John Major as PM”). He’d not make the same mistake again, though, when it comes to Keir Starmer. Although, he adds “If they [the Tories] came up with an incredibly good manifesto for the General Election next year, you know, I'd be tempted to go back to them,” before quickly adding, “but I can't see them doing that”. Reform UK will be relieved, at least.

But he’s under no illusion of who Reform UK’s supporter base is – the disillusioned former Tory voter.

“I addressed the Reform UK party conference recently,” Cox says. “Most of the audience had left the Tory party and all were crying out for some decent leadership.”

In 2010, Cox started Fair Fuel UK – a campaign which was spawned from his day job as acting as a business consultant. Today it has more than 1.7 million registered supporters and counts dozens of Tory backbenchers among them.

Howard Cox is responsible for considerable savings in the pocket of each and every motorist
Howard Cox is responsible for considerable savings in the pocket of each and every motorist

He’s come a long way. His career started out in pharmacology and medicine which led to a career in the marketing side of the industry and opportunities around the world. But then he decided to branch out and go it alone.

By the mid-1990s he came into a life-changing amount of money.

“I retired when I was 40, when I sold a business,” he explains, “but then someone stole a load of money off me. I lost a lot of cash and ended up having to go to court where they were declared bankrupt. It was someone I trusted and it was a bad experience. It’s not one I want to go into.”

However, he returned to the workplace as a consultant to small businesses – primarily in marketing and communications – and it was that which would lead him to his destiny.

“In 2010,” he recalls, “I was doing some work for this haulage logistics company. It had about 50 articulated trucks. I was sat down having a cup of tea with the managing director and he showed me his balance sheet.

Howard Cox - not a great admirer of ULEZ, it's fair to say
Howard Cox - not a great admirer of ULEZ, it's fair to say

“Almost half of all of his costs were taken up by fuel costs alone. Of which 70% was, at the time, going to the government in tax.

“That’s when I gave birth to Fair Fuel UK.”

In its sights have been that slice of fuel costs which goes into government coffers. Remarkably, given that its staff consists of him and his wife, it has played no insignificant role in keeping that under control.

With some 70 Tory backbenchers said to be supporters of Fair Fuel UK’s agenda, his voice has become powerful.

It has also put him on a collision course with those who believe the rights of the motorist must today be trumped by those of the climate.

Electric cars are to be applauded says Howard Cox – but he says their production lacks green credentials
Electric cars are to be applauded says Howard Cox – but he says their production lacks green credentials

As a consequence, he’s found excrement wrapped up in cycling gloves pushed through his letterbox as well as a number of death threats. An issue made more challenging by the fact he and his wife look after her mother who is in her 90s and suffers from dementia.

It was his wife’s family which pulled them to Cranbrook some 20 years ago. Born and bred in Lewisham and working in London “every day except Sundays” he qualifies to run as mayor courtesy of his work life. He will, however, be in a position where he cannot even cast a vote for himself.

Reform UK approached him earlier this year through Richard Tice – the millionaire businessman and party leader. He was joined by Mr Brexit himself, Nigel Farage, which persuaded him to put his name in the hat for the mayoral race.

Explained Cox: “Richard and Nigel said they knew my lobbying and all the campaigning for Fair Fuel UK has stopped £200 billion worth of tax rises on hard-pressed motorists.

“They said ‘we love your campaign, we love you’. Nigel simply said ‘you're you're made for this job’. I said look, I'm not a politician. I'm a public affairs campaigner. So I took three months to think about it before eventually saying yes.”

‘I am not anti-cyclists’ Howard Cox insists – but it’s not stopped him having excrement pushed through his letterbox
‘I am not anti-cyclists’ Howard Cox insists – but it’s not stopped him having excrement pushed through his letterbox

When we speak it was the day before Armistice Day – a significant one for Mr Cox. His father died in 1974 aged just 54. He had previously served in the RAF during the Second World War. Howard was just 20 at the time.

Hopes of having his own children looked destined to failure too until, a little over 30 years ago, he and his wife adopted a daughter. Now 31, she is – perhaps fittingly given her father’s position – a driver of articulated trucks.

He concludes: “That’s the other thing – she earns £51,000 a year, lives in London, but can’t afford to get a property – so affordable homes are important. Transport for London is the biggest owner of property in London so if I become mayor, that’s something I will be looking closely at.”

The Mayor of London elections are due to take place on May 2, 2024.

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