Watford’s Labour and Conservative groups have accused the Liberal Democrats of violating current Government guidance about campaigning under Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

The guidance under lockdown restrictions has prohibited door-to-door leafleting as political parties campaign for the May elections.

But these rules – which were applied both during the second lockdown in November and the current lockdown – were broken as leaflets and a ‘WatfordWide News’ tabloid-styled newsletter from the Liberal Democrats continued distribution to Watford residents.

With these restrictions imposed, both Watford Labour and the Watford Conservative Association decided to abide by these rules and halt distributions of any campaigning leaflets.

Leading Liberal Democrat councillor Stephen Giles-Medhurst however has 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.

And the Liberal Democrat states the 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 Libreral Democrats have been seen handing out leaflets.

Watford Observer: WatfordWide News was sent out despite current guidance prohibiting leafletingWatfordWide News was sent out despite current guidance prohibiting leafleting

“It’s not being handed out by normal volunteers, we have not asked volunteers to deliver this. This leaflet was ordered prior to Christmas, delivered in the fourth of January, and in terms of Watford we employed a local company to deliver it, and in other places it’s being delivered by the Royal Mail,” said Cllr Giles-Medhurst.

By paying a delivery company to hand out leaflets and not using their own volunteers, Cllr Giles-Medhurst believes they have not broken any rules.

“It’s no loophole in the system, that company relies on doing door-to-door deliveries,” he said – pointing out that the Police and Crime Commissioner has used the same company to continue handing out leaflets.

With the leaflets ordered and paid for before the third lockdown, Watford’s Liberal Democrats decided there was no need to hold back on disrupting the private company and handing out the leaflets.

Watford Observer: The content provided information on what the Liberal Democrats have doneThe content provided information on what the Liberal Democrats have done

When asked whether the items distributed could essentially persuade someone to vote for the party, hence being electoral-related, he said: “Anything that goes out from any party may-or-may not encourage someone to support you, but it actually gives out information on what the council is doing and informing people with the current situation – it’s information.”

Matthew Cawthorne, chairman of the Watford Conservative Association explained the party – like the Liberal Democrats – had literature printed out and paid for before the lockdown, but they suspended deliveries after the third lockdown was announced.

He said: “We are disappointed - although sadly not surprised, as they carried on in previous lockdowns - that the Lib Dems deliveries continue disregarding the spirit of the regulations, and the consequences of spreading the virus throughout Watford. Everyone knows the exemption to the stay-at-home rule for is for food, prescriptions and the like, not negative electioneering.

“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 Observer: Another leaflet handed outAnother leaflet handed out

Labour chairman Asif Khan stated the Liberal Democrats are “deliberately turning a blind-eye, bending or breaking the rules”.

He said: "It is the height of irresponsibility when the whole country has been told to stay at home for them to encourage Liberal Democrat activists to traipse the streets in lockdown, delivering hundreds of leaflets wearing no mask or gloves endangering themselves and what’s more everyone else.  There's absolutely nothing essential about that.”

He continued: “It is clear that the Liberal Democrats are focused on playing politics and seeking party political advantage ahead of this year’s planned elections. Instead of helping to fight the spread of the killer-Covid and putting Watford and the nation’s health first, they are only interested in themselves and their electoral fortunes.

“Instead of urging adherence to the stay-at-home message, the Liberal Democrats' approach is don’t bother following the rules to help combat the spread of Covid - just do exactly as you like. Whatever they say, that's exactly what they're doing.

“The Liberal Democrats are deliberately turning a blind-eye, bending or breaking the rules, call it what you will, and have the nerve to defend that. However, everyone can see it for what it is – appalling conduct, wanton recklessness, shocking and selfish behaviour. It is just not on. They should be ashamed of themselves and stop it."