DeSmog

Tories Spend Tens of Thousands on Ads Spreading Bogus Driving Tax Claims

The party has pumped out hundreds of adverts falsely stating that Labour would introduce a “national ULEZ”, and pay per mile charges.
Adam Barnett - new white crop
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A screenshot of a Conservative advert on Meta during the 2024 general election campaign. Credit: Conservatives / Meta

The Conservative Party has reached millions of people with digital adverts that falsely claim Labour would impose new taxes on drivers. 

In recent days the Tories have launched hundreds of new online adverts falsely claiming that Labour would introduce a nationwide ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) that would charge people for using highly-polluting vehicles. 

Labour’s London Mayor Sadiq Khan introduced and recently extended the capital’s ULEZ, which only applies to around 10 percent of vehicles, but the party has no plans to roll out the scheme to the rest of the country. 

New analysis by advertising experts ACT Climate Labs, shared with DeSmog, finds the Tories have spent tens of thousands of pounds since the start of the general election campaign on digital adverts, which have appeared on the likes of Google, Facebook and Instagram, attacking climate and anti-pollution policies.

“Unfortunately, the Conservative leadership has increasingly used environmental and climate policies as collateral damage lately, in an attempt to secure more support for the party,” Sean Buchan, intelligence lead at ACT Climate Labs, told DeSmog. 

“Clearly, it is not working – in fact, poll after poll shows us that Conservative voters, along with the vast majority of Brits, want climate action. 

“However, the ripple effects of these adverts may last well beyond 4 July. The climate movement needs to ensure the public is seeing pro-climate messaging that truly speaks to them, through creative and local campaigns, and where possible with multi-channel advertising of its own.”

One Tory advert on Meta (Facebook and Instagram) read: “This is not a test. Keir Starmer will force pay per mile driving, costing you £THOUSANDS [sic] a year.” 

This false claim – Labour doesn’t intend to introduce pay per mile charges – was seen between 150,000 and 175,000 times, costing between £1,000 and £1,500. 

During the London mayoral election in May, the Conservatives claimed that Labour would introduce pay per mile road charges in the city, despite Khan having publicly ruled out the policy. A Tory leaflet featuring the claim was reported by Labour to the Crown Prosecution Service, with the party saying it may have broken election law. 

While serving as chancellor, now Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reportedly said he was “very interested” in introducing a national pay per mile scheme.

“Voters are badly served by any party which repeatedly spreads misinformation or disinformation online,” said former Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake, director of the campaign group Unlock Democracy. “If parties cannot commit to accurate advertising on a voluntary basis, bringing political ads under advertising rules may provide the only solution.”

ULEZ Blitz

Another Meta advert from the Conservatives, costing between £400 and £499 and gaining upwards of 50,000 impressions, claimed “Keir Starmer will force a local ULEZ near you”.

The party is now pumping out hundreds of similar adverts spreading this claim, each tailored to a local constituency, estimated to be costing up to £65,000. “With his supermajority, Keir Starmer could steamroll through plans to introduce a ULEZ near you,” the adverts state.

The Tory campaign has been warning voters against handing Labour a large majority, despite the size of a government’s majority making little difference to its ability to pass legislation. 

“The Tory strategy of the last few weeks has been to focus on their core supporters, as well as those who might vote Reform, so these ads are another thing designed for them,” Sam Jeffers, executive director of the advertising monitoring platform Who Targets Me, told DeSmog. 

The Tories have also paid for a Google advert attacking Labour’s decarbonisation plans, which has been viewed more than five million time, costing between £25,000 and £30,000. The advert features an “explainer” video on how much a Labour government would allegedly cost households, with decarbonising the electricity grid the first cost named.

Labour plans to decarbonise the electricity grid by 2030, while the Conservatives have pledged that 95 percent of the UK’s electricity will be generated by low-carbon sources by 2030, achieving full decarbonisation by 2035.

Political parties have spent huge sums on digital adverts during the campaign so far. As of 25 June, the Tories and Labour combined had spent over £3 million on Meta adverts that had gained an estimated 400 million impressions. 

“Advertising blasts like this – especially when micro-targeted – can have a significant influence on people’s thoughts and behaviours,” said Buchan.

“In an increasingly fragmented media environment, digital advertising can be a fantastic way to target hard-to-reach people with your message. In an election where honesty is at a premium, it’s very concerning to see so much money – up to £70,000 on the adverts we’ve counted – spent on such spurious claims.”

Adam Barnett - new white crop
Adam Barnett is DeSmog's UK News Reporter. He is a former Staff Writer at Left Foot Forward and BBC Local Democracy Reporter.

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