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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Labour accuses Susan Hall’s campaign of misleading tactics in London mayoral race

The row over whether Sadiq Khan will introduce ‘pay-per-mile’ road user charging if he is re-elected took a new twist on Tuesday, as Labour referred the Tories to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) over the issue.

Labour has written to the Crown Prosecution Service over a Conservative attack leaflet that suggests he will introduce ‘pay-per-mile’ road charging in London.

Lawyers acting on behalf of Labour have asked the CPS to investigate whether Susan Hall’s Conservative campaign is guilty of a ‘corrupt practice’ under the Representation of the People Act 1983.

Their complaint relates to the delivery of a leaflet which looks like a penalty charge notice.

Labour have told the CPS their “principal concern” is “the envelope that the leaflet has been distributed in”, as the envelope “closely resembles that which would ordinarily contain a fixed penalty notice for driving offences”.

But Conservative sources have said they did not use envelopes to distribute the leaflets, all of which have imprints on them identifying them as coming from “Susan Hall” of “CCHQ” [Conservative Campaign Headquarters].

In their letter to the CPS, Labour wrote: “It is apparent that Ms Hall, in falsely implying that Mr Khan plans to introduce a “pay per mile” scheme, is suggesting that by voting for Mr Khan, electors may be caused financial loss as a result.

“This is a clear attempt to induce persons not to vote (or not to vote for Mr Khan) on the basis of that prospective financial loss, which therefore engages the Section 114A offence, with reference to subsection 4 (d).”

Ms Hall has repeatedly claimed that Mr Khan is “plotting a new tax on motorists” which will charge car-drivers depending on the distances they drive.

She points out that the mayor has in the past ordered TfL to investigate the concept, which the mayor has admitted to several times. But Mr Khan has since denied he has any plan to pursue such a system, telling the London Assembly in September 2023: “As long as I am mayor, we’re not going to have pay-per-mile”.

Ms Hall argues that Mr Khan will go back on his word, because he said in July 2021 that he had “no plans to extend the Ulez to outer London”, before announcing such plans eight months later, in March 2022.

Responding to the news that Labour has written to the CPS, a spokesman for Ms Hall’s campaign said: “This is desperate nonsense from Sadiq Khan’s campaign, intended to distract from his plans to hit every single family in our city with a pay-per-mile charge.

“It’s a plan he’s so proud of, he gloated about in his book and has legally committed Transport for London (TfL) to deliver.

“Londoners will see through this; Sadiq Khans’ record of dishonesty speaks for itself.”

The suggestion that Mr Khan has “legally committed” TfL to delivering pay-per-mile is based on the fact that he included it within his official transport strategy, which has a formal legal status.

Karen Buck MP, who is chairing Mr Khan’s campaign, said: “We’re now seeing tactics being used by the Tories which rival even those used in their disgraced 2016 mayoral campaign.

“The Tories are scaremongering people who are already worried about their bills thanks to the catastrophic cost-of-living crisis they created. These tactics are legally questionable, and certainly mark another low in this desperate Tory campaign characterised by dirty tactics and lies.

“Sadiq has ruled out ever bringing in pay per mile as long as he’s mayor – no ifs no buts.”

The leaflets distributed in the envelopes carry the message: “DRIVER CHARGING NOTICE… The Mayor of London is planning another tax on drivers. If you’re not prepared to pay, then scan the QR code below.”

The back of the leaflet has an imprint which states: “Promoted by Ian Sanderson on behalf of Susan Hall, both of CCHQ”.

It is understood that the reason Labour have not gone straight to the Met Police with their concern about the envelopes is because the party wishes to first assess whether the complaint passes the legal threshold for an investigation.

The party does not wish to be seen to be applying political pressure on the police, or wasting police time, without first having that assessment made.

The CPS confirmed that it has received Labour’s letters and is considering its contents. The CPS does not investigate alleged offences or decide whether a person is guilty, but instead provides expert legal advice early in investigations to help build strong cases, or identify where a suspect should not be charged.

Mr Khan’s team have meanwhile revealed that they have now signed up to the Reform Political Advertising Code, along with the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives are not thought to have yet signed up to it.

The code – drawn up by a “politically impartial” non-profit group of volunteers – commits political parties and campaigns to making “every reasonable effort not to mislead voters” and to ensure that factual claims are accurate.

Mr Khan was previously asked in January whether he would sign up to the code live on James O’Brien’s LBC radio show. At that time, he said he was “sympathetic” to the idea, but he had an “anxiety” about not having a “level playing field” with his opponents.

“What would be unfair would be if I continue to be straight, candid and honest with Londoners but my Tory opponent or others weren’t,” the mayor told LBC.

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