Tories spend more on Khan attack ads than Houchen or Bradley mayoral campaigns

Daniel Green
Photo: Lev Radin/Shutterstock

The Conservatives have spent more on Facebook attack ads on London Labour mayor Sadiq Khan than their entire mayoral campaigns for Ben Houchen or Ben Bradley over the past month, LabourList can reveal.

The Tories have spent thousands of pounds on Facebook advertising targeted at Londoners to prop up Susan Hall’s bid to become Mayor, as she languishes 24 points behind Labour’s Sadiq Khan in the polls.

Between February 22nd and March 22nd, the Conservatives spent £19,365 on campaign advertising on Facebook for two pages on the social media platform.

One of these pages, titled “Sadiq Khan Won’t Listen”, spent more than £7,000 alone on advertisements, claiming Khan has made it “more expensive to do business”, made London “unsafe” and is planning a “new tax for Londoners”.

Over the same period, the Conservatives spent only £6,405 on adverts for Tory MP Ben Bradley’s campaign to become East Midlands Mayor and £6,280 on ads for Ben Houchen’s re-election bid as Tees Valley Mayor.

The London Labour Party spent £13,055 on advertising on Facebook over the course of the month.

The period covered by the data does not include spending since Susan Hall’s campaign launch earlier this week.

Since November last year, online political adverts require a disclaimer to show who paid for and produced it.

The vast majority of Susan Hall’s campaign spending over this period (£17,564) says that the Conservative Party paid for the advertising.

One of the campaign adverts by ‘Sadiq Khan Won’t Listen’, paid for by the Conservative Party

A spokesman for Sadiq Khan’s campaign said: “These figures strongly suggest that Susan Hall’s claims to be separate from the Conservative Party are totally spurious.

“90% of her spending on Facebook ads came from Conservative HQ. Once again, she must answer the question: is she a beneficiary of donations by Frank Hester?”

Tories ‘following some of the same playbook from Uxbridge’

Benedict Pringle, writer on political marketing, said it was no surprise that the Conservatives were spending on advertising attacking Khan.

He told LabourList: “Susan Hall is obviously having a very difficult time of it. If you are massively behind in the polls, you need to try and drag your opponents back, so it doesn’t totally surprise me that she’s going negative, because you are trying to get the other person’s number down somewhat. It is a good tactic.”

Pringle also said that the Conservatives’ attack line, claiming Khan isn’t listening, seems to take lessons from the Uxbridge by-election, where the Tories narrowly managed to keep the seat.

“The Conservatives did well to weaponise ULEZ (the ultra-low emission zone) and get that over the line [in Uxbridge],” Pringle said.

“I think they will be following some of the same playbook. For anyone who is running for a third term in office, the accusation that you are losing touch with what voters want is a common one.”

Could the general election be dominated by misleading attack ads?

It comes as the Conservatives launch a series of attack ads dubbed “Life under Labour”, first on London and yesterday targeting Labour-run Birmingham, that have left many bemused and concerned – not least for including stock video of New York City.

LabourList has been told the Tory attack ad on Birmingham has angered some business leaders in the city.

Pringle is involved in the Reform Political Advertising campaign, which seeks to regulate election ads to ensure fact-based claims made are accurate. He expressed concern that adverts like “Life under Labour” could be a foretaste of what to expect in the general election campaign in the coming months.

He said: “It does make me nervous about the general election because there were factually incorrect points in that ad or ones made without sufficient substantiation. If that was in the commercial world, perhaps that ad would be pulled, or perhaps there would be a watchdog complaint upheld and that would not be allowed to run again. But we don’t have rules on election advertising in this country, which is a disgrace.

“On some levels, I think the Conservatives will see the ad as successful,” he said, and be tempted to run more like it.

The campaign teams for Susan Hall and the Conservative Party were approached for comment.

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