The Tories have been in an escalating chaotic, civil war state since Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election made space for the ‘Corbyn surge‘ that destroyed their majority and has put Labour ahead of them in polling – chaos that has intensified since May’s disastrous speech to close the Tories’ annual conference.
Perhaps that explains their bizarre behaviour over the last few days. Or perhaps there is more to it.
In September, minicab firm Uber lost its licence for what has been described as its ‘rogue business model’. Since then, revelations have emerged that some thirteen thousand minicab drivers – more than ten percent of the capital’s total – have had their background checks revoked. Uber drivers are said to represent the largest part of this number.
But now, in a bizarre move, the Tory party has begun circulating flyers with a link to a petition for Uber’s licence to be reinstated:
The use of ‘blanket ban’ is, of course, deeply misleading. Khan has not imposed a ‘ban’ of any kind. Transport for London (TfL) has declined to renew the company’s licence on the grounds that TfL considers it unfit to hold one. Concerns about passenger safety and about the company’s treatment of its drivers have been given as the reason for this – yet the Tories seem to feel these issues are not that important – as long as London’s properly trained and licensed black cab drivers can be undercut.
The Tory leaflet trumpets ‘business and innovation’, but a parliamentary inquiry found Uber’s employment practices to amount to treating drivers as ‘sweated labour’. The Tories appear quite fond of that kind of ‘innovation’, of course.
But there are more sinister aspects to this bizarre intervention on the part of the Tories. A Freedom of Information (FOI) Act request revealed that in a period of 2.5 months earlier this year, 146 TORs (traffic offence reports) were issued to Uber drivers – meaning just over half of all TORs during the period were issued to a single company:
Far worse, there have been claims that Uber drivers were responsible for an average of one sexual assault per week – and the Met accused the company of failing to report such assaults:
A blog post by Andrew Gilligan, Senior Correspondent at the Times and former London ‘Cycling Tsar’, contains a letter from the Met alleging several sexual assaults by an Uber driver as well as a ‘road rage’ incident in which an Uber driver pursued another vehicle and then left his car to continue the pursuit on foot brandishing a handgun. The letter also accuses Uber of withholding information on these incidents from police.
There have also been suggestions on social media that an Uber driver was responsible for the incident on 7 October when a vehicle left the road and injured eleven pedestrians – and claims that news about it was being suppressed to avoid damage to the company’s hopes of getting the licensing decision overturned:
The vehicle has certainly been reported as a minicab, with details alleged to be of the vehicle already in the public domain although seemingly not widely circulated:
However, available images of the aftermath of the incident do not clearly show the area of the vehicle’s doors that would normally bear the Uber decal. The driver has not yet been publicly identified nor any police updates issued in some days and a retired police officer commented on Twitter that this was unusual.
However, when the SKWAWKBOX asked the Met about the absence of updates or identification, a press spokeswoman said that the driver was ‘released under investigation’ and had not been charged, and therefore that no identification would be released for the time being.
The spokeswoman could not say when developments might be expected. Asked directly whether the driver worked for Uber, she declined to confirm or deny. TfL have been asked to confirm whether an Uber driver was involved and their answer is awaited.
Whatever the facts about the Kensington incident, there are more than enough concerns on record to make a political party – in normal circumstances – extremely cautious about associating itself too closely with a business.
Yet that is exactly what the Tories have done – not even merely endorsing a petition but setting up and publicising their own.
Both the Tory party and Uber have been asked whether any donations have been made, whether directly related to the petition or otherwise, but both have so far failed to respond.
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