A BOLTON MP has been criticised by his political rival for backing anti-congestion charge protesters just two weeks before a crucial transport referendum.

David Crausby, who represents Bolton North-east, said he had thrown his weight behind the “No campaign” because he feared low- paid workers would struggle to afford the predicted £5 daily charge to enter and leave Manchester at rush hour.

He also believes Bolton is not getting a fair share of the £2.7 billion being spent on public transport improvements in return for the charge.

Mr Crausby’s fellow Labour MPs in Bolton, Brian Iddon and Ruth Kelly, are in favour of the charge.

But Deborah Dunleavy, the Conservative’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Bolton North-east at the next general election, questioned Mr Crausby’s timing and accused him of being out of touch with his constituents.

Miss Dunleavy, who is also against the congestion charge, said: “I’m glad he’s saying No and has gone against a Government that is trying to impose a stealth tax on people, especially in these economic times.

“But I think he has failed in representing his constituents if he has only just realised, in the week of the ballot papers going out, that so many people are against it.”

Mr Crausby said: “It is a bit belated in joining the No lobby but this is not a view I have changed “My political opponents will want to use any opportunity to get them publicity but I have honestly come to the conclusion that, in the face of Government policy, that this is the right thing to do.

“Some people will wonder why I’m taking this position and in some quarters I may find myself unpopular. But my job is to represent the people of Bolton and when I look at the proposals, I don’t see any substantial benefits to Bolton.”

The transport innovation fund (TIF) referendum is currently under way.

Every person in Bolton eligible to vote should have received a ballot paper by last Friday.

The deadline for returning the completed ballot paper is December 11. The results are due to be announced the following day.

If at least seven out of the ten local authority areas in Greater Manchester return a majority of Yes votes, the TIF transport deal will be go ahead.