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The Conservative Party’s Disinformation Machine

Sadiq Khan is the latest victim of a sustained campaign of misinformation and outright lies from the Conservative party

Conservative Party attack ad falsely claiming London has become a “crime capital of the world’

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“There needs to be greater awareness among the public of the risks [of online disinformation]” the Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden told MPs on Monday, adding that citizens should make themselves aware of the “need to treat images [online] with much more scepticism”.

Yet within minutes of Dowden warning about rogue states spreading disinformation , the Conservative Party had released its own attack advert falsely claiming that London had become a “crime capital of the world”.

The video, which later had to be deleted and re-edited after social media users pointed out it had been illustrated with footage from a terror scare in New York, is still available online despite containing a series of other falsehoods.

It’s opening sequencecontinues to suggest that London has now become so dangerous that citizens have been forced to either stay at home or “go underground”. This is obviously untrue.

In fact the latest crime stats actually show that London is among the safest cities in the world, with violent crimes lower than they are in England as a whole.

And while the video claimed that Khan had “seized power” in the city, he had in fact won two mayoral elections by a healthy margin and is currently forecast to win a third by an even larger distance.

The Conservative party’s misinformation video was also linked to a new website detailing claims of what “Life under Labour” would look like.

One of the pictures used to demonstrate this supposed dereliction being experienced under the opposition, was of derelict housing in a Peterborough – a city which until recently was Conservative-led and is now independent, without any Labour control.

A source close to Sadiq Khan told Byline Times that the party’s latest attack on him, led by their candidate Susan Hall, was “true to form for the Tory campaign. It’s a deeply misleading attack, intentionally talking down London from a candidate who appears to have no love for the city she aspires to lead.”

The video is not a one off, however. In recent days Hall has repeatedly tied crime rates in the city to Khan’s closure of a number of police stations to Londoners, while refusing to acknowledge that the closure programme actually began under the last Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson.

Not everyone in the party appears willing to go along with such misinformation, however.

The party’s former Minister for London, whose bid to become their candidate for City Hall was reportedly blocked by Rishi Sunak, shared his discomfort with the party’s latest attack ad.

A post shared on X by Scully, attacked the “deeply negative video” about London and warned that the party should not be “disrespectful to Londoners”.

Yet showing such disrespect to this city of eight million people appears to be a big part of the Conservative party’s political strategy.

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‘A Dog Whistle in a City With No Dogs’

Despite briefings from both side that the race between Khan and Hall is close, recent polls suggest that the Labour incumbent is more than 20 points ahead of his rival. As a result, the Conservatives appear to be putting very little effort into their ground campaign.

At her campaign launch last weekend, in what appeared to be a car park in Uxbridge, Hall was not joined by Rishi Sunak, or any other senior Cabinet minister. And whereas Khan’s own launch last week was accompanied by Keir Starmer and attended by multiple media outlets, the Conservative party appears to have deliberately excluded any journalists from attending Hall’s launch.

A spokesman for Hall did not respond to a request for comment on why journalists had been excluded.

However, while the Conservatives appear to have abandoned any real hope of fairly defeating Khan, they do appear determined to continue using the city as a tool for their campaign in the rest of the country.

By portraying London and other Labour-led cities such as Birmingham, as crime-ridden hellscapes, no matter what the facts actually show, the party is attempting to send out a dog-whistle message to its potential supporters in other parts of the country.

This strategy, which includes the Prime Minister regularly mocking Keir Starmer’s own London background, is a clear attempt to do down the UK’s capital city in an attempt to win votes elsewhere.

This strategy has sometimes backfired, most recently when the party’s then Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson falsely accused London’s Muslim mayor of being in league with Islamic extremists. However, it is not a new one.

When Khan first stood to win back City Hall for Labour in 2016, the Conservatives subjected him to a sustained campaign attempting to tie him to Islamic extremism. At the time one senior London Conservative described it to me as being a “Dog whistle campaign in a city with no dogs”.

Yet while such dog whistle misinformation may have had little effect on Londoners themselves, Rishi Sunak and his party still appear to believe that it will have an impact elsewhere.

Just like Brexit campaign, which relied on spreading false claims about millions of Turks heading the UK, the Conservative party’s latest campaign is designed to play on the worst prejudices of swing voters, while abandoning any interest in accuracy or the truth.

So while we have heard much from the Government in recent weeks about the threats of deep fakes and online ‘extremism’, the reality is that when it comes to inciting division and spreading misinformation, there are few parties who have proven more adept at it than the Conservative party.

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