Labour calls for investigation into Tory mayoral candidate’s ‘fake’ council tax rise warnings

The Labour Party has doubled down on demands for the Conservatives to launch an investigation into London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey’s campaign over “fake” warnings sent out to voters appearing to threaten a council tax rise from City Hall.

In a letter obtained by The Independent, MP Angela Rayner, deputy leader and party chair of Labour, admonished the Conservative Party for failing to act in the weeks after Mr Bailey’s campaign sent out flyers made to look like official warnings from Mayor Sadiq Khan’s office that their Council Tax would be raised unless they “take action”. 

“The public rightly expects honesty and integrity from political parties, elected politicians,  candidates and their campaigners so it is extremely concerning to me that Mr Bailey, an  elected representative of the London Assembly, and your candidate for Mayor of London,  would continue to seek to deceive Londoners with false information presented as being from  trusted public bodies,” Ms Rayner wrote in the letter, which was addressed to MP Amanda Milling, co-chair of the Conservative Party, and dated to Sunday.

Noting that she had already written a previous letter “inquiring whether weaponising fake news is now official Conservative Party policy,” the Labour deputy leader said she was now writing again to demand that the Tories launch an investigation into the incident and push Mr Bailey’s campaign to issue a public apology. 

Ms Rayner also called on the Conservatives to publicly condemn the actions of the mayoral candidate’s campaign team. 

Mr Bailey’s campaign has faced significant scrutiny after being accused earlier this month of playing a “heartless, cheap trick” on voters by sending out the controversial flyers.

Liberal Democrat mayoral contender Luisa Porritt had initially flagged concerns around the initiative, demanding an immediate apology from Mr Bailey. 

The Tory candidate’s campaign team has defended the flyers, however, with a spokesperson telling The Independent that  “Londoners have a right to know the full facts. And the fact is Sadiq Khan’s planning to hike his share of council tax.”

The campaign accused Mr Khan of planning to raise Council Tax to “pay for the cost of his management”. 

However, the London mayor had previously only expressed that he was considering the possibility of raising Council Tax to cover gaps in TfL funding worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic and left unplugged by central government.

On 16 December, however, the day that Mr Bailey’s flyer campaign made it into headlines, Mr Khan issued a warning that a council tax rise was likely.

“I must sound a warning for Londoners that instead of providing the funding we need, Ministers are pushing for an extraordinary and significant increase in Council Tax in London and across the UK,” he said in a statement.

“I will be honest and upfront with Londoners about exactly what this means for your bills as soon as possible,” he added.

In Ms Rayner’s letter, the MP accuses Mr Bailey’s campaign of failing to acknowledge that much of TfL’s borrowing was incurred “under the previous Mayoralty, under a Conservative Mayor”. 

“By contrast, the current Mayor has dramatically cut TfL’s rate of borrowing and hugely improved its finances during his mayoralty,” she said in the letter, which can be seen below.

The MP further accused Mr Bailey’s campaign of failing to “acknowledge the devastating impact that Covid-19 has had on TfL finances, which as you know is the reason emergency funding was needed in the first place.”

In a statement sent to The Independent, a London Labor spokesperson said: “The Tory Mayoral candidate is now making a regular habit of deliberately lying to Londoners and spreading fake news.”

The spokesperson accused Mr Bailey’s campaign of exaggerating what a potential Council Tax increase might look like to “scare Londoners at a time when many are facing financial hardship because of the pandemic.”

“There is simply no way Sadiq would choose to increase council tax by anything like those levels. He should immediately withdraw these leaflets and apologise to Londoners for lying yet again,” the spokesperson said.

The Independent has contacted the Conservative Party for comment.

This article has been updated with a comment from London Labour.