Two political parties in Basingstoke have been criticised for delivering leaflets during lockdown.
The Liberal Democrats and the Basingstoke & Deane Independent Group delivered leaflets to residents in town following the introduction of Tier Four restrictions. These rules carried a ‘Stay at Home’ message, except for essential activities.
Hampshire Constabulary confirmed to the Gazette that “there is no exception” for leafleting under the regulations, with one borough councillor accusing the parties of having set “an appalling example” for the public.
However, the parties hit back, with the Liberal Democrats saying that the accusations were “political gameplaying” and that they were doing “essential work”. The Basingstoke & Deane Independent Group, meanwhile, said that they were doing their work as councillors and that they “take the right precautions constantly – hand sanitizing and socially distancing.”
Residents of Grove, Brookvale and Kings Furlong, Popley and Norden wards, which cover much of the north and centre of the town, received literature from the parties, detailing their work and views on local issues, during Tier Four restrictions.
At the time, national Liberal Democrat guidance was that members could continue to deliver leaflets in Tier Four, but that group deliveries, and knocking on doors, should not take place, with any planned door knocking to be replaced by phone calls.
However, Hampshire Constabulary said that “there is no exception” for the delivery of campaign leaflets under Tier Four regulations or subsequently, the national lockdown.
Under coronavirus restrictions in place at the time, members of the public were told not to leave their home unless they had a “reasonable excuse,” including work, shopping for essentials, medical care and education.
Other parties in the area had previously stopped delivering literature to residents during the imposition of Tier Four restrictions. The Labour Party say that they ceased delivery on December 22, while similar advice from Conservative Party HQ saw their members do the same.
Cllr Andrew McCormick, leader of the Labour group on Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council (BDBC), criticised both parties for their deliveries, saying: “It’s pretty obvious that the Stay at Home restrictions are being ignored and the virus is out of control. And some of our councillors are setting an appalling example by breaching the rules themselves: what hope have we of our residents complying?”
However, both parties hit back. Cllr Gavin James, the leader of the Liberal Democrat group at BDBC, accused him of “pathetic, political gameplaying.”
He said: “We have a responsibility to communicate with our electorate. We can do it in a Covid-safe way, and in our experience residents have appreciated hearing from their local councillors and receiving those updates from us to know we’re still around and thinking about them.
We took advice from the Liberal Democrat head office who said that it was okay to deliver in Tier Four. As far as we’re concerned, we are doing essential work in communicating with our residents and delivering newsletters, just as most paperboys are working, the Royal Mail were working; indeed, Amazon were delivering.”
He said that members had been going out individually, and “never got within two metres of anybody”. He added that the party had ceased deliveries during the national lockdown, and would continue to take government advice and “keep working hard for our communities.”
Cllr David Potter, of the Basingstoke & Deane Independent Group, said the party was “simply focused on the work we do for our residents.”
He said: “People welcome our community newsletters; people have told us they are pleased to get them because they inform them about issues and decisions that are being taken that affect their lives in their community. On the front of our Community Newsletter we give people the contact number for help with access to food, prescriptions and services.
“Indeed, we have helped people access the food bank as a result of our community newsletters. We’ve helped people who have been on their own throughout the last year and we’ve given them details of the services that are available for them. We’ve picked up casework helping people with issues they have; indeed, we have received many calls from people raising matters of concern as a result of our community newsletter informing them of local issues. People telling us that they are pleased we are available to help. Not everyone has access to the internet and so our community newsletter helps inform people.”
He said that precautions such as social distancing and the use of hand sanitiser had been taken, following the lead of other community magazines.
He added: “Our community newsletters have not been delivered during Lockdown and nor would we.”