Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner has said she is “deeply concerned” that the Liberal Democrats are continuing to send out political leaflets despite lockdown guidelines.
Watford’s Labour and Conservative group accused the political party of “deliberately turning a blind-eye” by continuing to hand out leaflets despite Government guidance prohibiting door-to-door leafleting as the parties campaign for the May elections.
The rules – which were applied both during the second lockdown in November and the current lockdown – were broken by the Liberal Democrats as leaflets and a ‘WatfordWide News’ tabloid-styled newsletter continued distribution to Watford residents.
And the Huffington Post reports the party in other areas, including Oldham and Liverpool, similarly continued to send out letters and breaching the ‘Stay at Home unless essential’ guidance.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government also advised the County Council Network that going door-to-door is prohibited until lockdown restrictions ease.
In a letter seen by the Huffington Post, Labour’s deputy leader addressed Lib Dem president Mark Park with her concerns.
She wrote: “The restrictions in place during national lockdown are unambiguous and universal – people must stay at home, apart from for essential reasons that do not include party political campaigning.
“I am deeply concerned that Liberal Democrat activists continue to deliver party political leaflets during national lockdown. I urge you to follow the example of the Labour Party and suspend volunteer leaflet deliveries during lockdown immediately.
“Will the Liberal Democrats publish a statement today making clear that leaflet deliveries should not be taking place during lockdown and as President will you ensure that no further volunteer leaflet deliveries take place during national lockdown restrictions?”
Leading Liberal Democrat councillor Stephen Giles-Medhurst defended the latest run of newsletters, pointing to the legal advice the national Liberal Democrats party received – which classes leafleting as a “voluntary service” that cannot “reasonably be undertaken from home” and therefore exempt.
He told the Watford Observer that leaflets were not sent out by volunteers, and instead by a local Watford commercial company, with “one or two exceptions”.
But it is believed that at least some members related to the Liberal Democrats have been seen handing out leaflets.
By paying a delivery company to hand out leaflets and claiming to not use their own volunteers, Cllr Giles-Medhurst believes they have not broken any rules.
Cllr Giles-Medhurst classds the information provided as ‘essential’ to update residents on what is happening locally.
Matthew Cawthorne, chairman of the Watford Conservative Association, said: “The Lib Dems are under pressure to defend their policies given the criticism of their mistakes as a one-party administration of the town over two decades, but we hope that they – even at this late stage – can put the greater good ahead of narrow politics and cease deliveries. The people of Watford will take their behaviour into consideration at the forthcoming local elections.”
Watford Labour chairman Asif Khan called the action the “height of irresponsibility” that Liberal Democrat activists were encouraged to hand out leaflets during the strict lockdown period.
A Lib Dem spokesperson told the Huffington Post: “Current government regulations permit volunteering as long as it is done safely, near to home and not in groups. We have issued clear guidance on how to do that to all our Councillors and volunteers.
“Up and down the country, Liberal Democrat MPs and councillors have a proud track record of keeping in touch with their local community all year round.
“Right now it is more important than ever to keep people connected through essential communications like leaflets, which highlight how vulnerable people can access essential services during Covid. For many elderly or isolated people, this can be their only source of help.”