Ministers accused of ‘drawing political fire’ at those who speak out

The Government has been accused of “systematically drawing political fire” at those who speak out against it.

Speaking in the Commons, shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon suggested that ministers are “deliberately seeking out” those who vote for a Labour mayor.

It came after Sadiq Khan accused Prime Minister Boris Johnson of a “blatant lie” after he claimed that the London Mayor was to blame for effectively bankrupting Transport for London (TfL).

During Transport Questions, Mr McMahon told MPs: “Transport operators have been devastated by Covid and it’s going to take some time to recover to strength. The Government has stepped in to underwrite all the revenue risk of rail franchise operators despite shareholder dividends in the region of £1.7 billion since 2011.

“Now, there was a sense that we needed to keep rail going and that was the right intervention, but the Government have gone further, paying out operators’ profits on top of that with even more to come.

“Yet here in the nation’s capital, our essential transport workers, working hard to keep the city going, are routinely deployed to attack the Mayor of London.

“So why is the Government content to underwrite all revenue risk and bail out foreign government shareholders, but not back the people of this country?”

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps responded: “I’m slightly confused by that question because there hasn’t been a single bigger bailout of any organisation that I can think of than the £1.6 billion that’s already gone to Transport for London, with another billion pounds coming along.”

Mr McMahon defended Mr Khan and said that he had reduced the deficit of TfL by 71%.

He told MPs: “Whether it’s Sadiq Khan in London, Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, the Government is systematically drawing political fire at those who dare to speak out.

“Let’s be very clear – it was a Prime Minister when he left City Hall who handed back the subsidy, who left £1.5 billion of a deficit, and it was Sadiq Khan who reduced it by 71%.

“Will the Government right this wrong and match the intervention for rail franchises across all operations including TfL, or have the Government gone from the poll tax to the polling day tax where they deliberately seek out anybody who dares to vote for a Labour mayor?”

The Transport Secretary responded: “It’s one of these pre-written questions which doesn’t adjust to the answer. I just explained that more money has gone to the single organisation that the Mayor of London runs than any other organisation that I can think of, certainly in transport.”

Mr Shapps also claimed that the Government will not require Mr Khan to extend the capital’s congestion charge.

Mr Khan previously said ministers want Transport for London (TfL) to expand the £15 congestion charge zone to the North and South Circular roads in 12 months’ time, which would see the zone cover around four million more Londoners, in return for a second bailout.

Labour’s Karen Buck (Westminster North) asked Mr Shapps: “Would the Secretary of State be kind enough to confirm to the House that he wrote to the Mayor of London in these terms – ‘We propose you maintain the congestion charge at its current level and hours, and we also propose the extension of the congestion charge to the same area as the ultra low emission zone from October 2021’?”

Mr Shapps replied: “I think it’s important to understand the Government has already provided funding of £1.6 billion to Transport for London.

“The mayor is now back for another tranche of funding, which is understandable in part because of Covid, but in other parts to do with, for example, not having maintained fares with inflation previously – the mayor has left a gap.

“We have gone to the mayor with a long list of different things he could do. It’s up to him what he does.

“I want to make it absolutely clear to the House: it is his choice and we’re not going to require him to extend the congestion charge anywhere.”