Home politics Tory London mayoral candidate criticised over TfL bailout 'facts' site

Tory London mayoral candidate criticised over TfL bailout 'facts' site

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The London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey has been criticised after his team launched a “facts” website about the bailout for Transport for London that makes minimal references to its creation by the Conservative party.

The website, titled Transport for London Bailout Facts, describes itself as “everything you need to know about TfL’s second bailout”. It attacks the mayor Sadiq Khan’s oversight of the authority at a time when it has needed a £1.8bn government bailout after revenues fell during the pandemic.

Only at the very bottom of the page does the site state that it is “published by Kerry Halfpenny on behalf of Shaun Bailey”, before listing the address of the Conservative campaign headquarters in London.

The website makes no explicit reference to the Conservative party or to Bailey’s hopes to challenge Khan for the mayoralty, meaning the website’s source may not be obvious to some readers. The “facts” claims have also been made in a leaflet campaign.

The Conservatives have previously faced criticism for masquerading as a factchecking service during the 2019 general election. During the leaders’ debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s press account changed its name and branding to “factcheckUK”.

Will Moy, the chief executive of Full Fact, an independent factchecking website, said the practice should be stopped, highlighting several instances of political parties and campaigners in the EU referendum creating similarly misleading materials.

“It is inappropriate and misleading for a candidate for political office to brand campaign material as an independent resource,” he said. “In a democracy, voters need meaningful transparency to make informed decisions. Self-respecting politicians should make their own arguments in their own names.”

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The site first appeared on the Internet Archive, an automated web archive, on Sunday. Bailey does not appear to have shared the website on his Twitter account since then, but his profile contained a picture of the web address on a campaign vehicle and pictures of volunteers holding leaflets with similar designs.

Bailey had been due to go up against Khan in mayoral elections in May this year but the vote was postponed to May 2021 owing to the coronavirus lockdown.

The decline in travel since the start of the pandemic has pushed TfL’s finances to the brink, and the government stepped in to bail it out at the weekend.

A spokesman for Bailey’s campaign said Khan was “trying to avoid responsibility” for £9.6bn in money wasted by TfL. “Londoners have a right to know the truth,” he said.

A spokeswoman for Khan said Bailey’s campaign was “deliberately lying” and described the website as “fake news masquerading as ‘facts’”. She said: “The Tories must stop trying to take Londoners for fools.”

The government will step in with £1.8bn to keep TfL running for the next six months, after a heated political battle between Khan and Boris Johnson, his predecessor as mayor. In return, TfL has agreed to shelve plans to build a second Crossrail link and to investigate a possible rollout of driverless trains.

Johnson and Bailey have argued that Khan was responsible for “bankrupting” TfL. Khan has described this as a “blatant lie”.



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