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Is public money being used to support mayor's re-election campaign?

Michael Crick | 22:53 UK time, Thursday, 5 August 2010

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It is reported that Boris Johnson is planning to put another £81 million into his London bike rental scheme. But is the project, launched amid great fanfare last week, also part of a big effort to promote Johnson himself? Is public money, and millions more in sponsorship from Barclays Bank, being used to support the mayor's re-election campaign?

OK, it was inevitable that the bicycles would be called Boris Bikes (though it was actually Ken Livingstone who first proposed the idea).You can't stop the media seizing on obvious alliteration (and Ken's Bikes doesn't work so well anyway).

But this week Transport for London (TFL) have sent out free T-shirts to the first 1,000 Londoners to sign up to the scheme. On the front of the shirt is a picture of the bikes, the scheme logo and the heading 'Barclays Cycle Hire'.

Fair enough.

But the back of the T-shirt simply shows a cartoon of a cyclist who is obviously Boris Johnson - with unkempt blond hair, dark suit, flapping tie etc.

Indeed I know the cartoon is Boris Johnson because it also appears on the TFL website, only this time there's a bubble coming out of the cyclists head saying: "I call on Londoners to sign up and become pioneer members - Boris Johnson."

Perhaps 1,000 free T-shirts won't make much difference to Boris Johnson's election effort, and I can't imagine many people will actually wear them in public.

But TFL ought to be careful how they use the Johnson cartoon in future, and how they involve him in such ventures. They not only run the risk of falling foul of our strict laws on election spending, but also those which ban government bodies from using public funds to promote individual politicians.

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