'Arrogant disregard for the rules' – leader's fury as Lib Dems continue leaflet drops

David Williams, the leader of Hertfordshire County Council. Photo: Pete Stevens.

Hertfordshire County Council leader Cllr David Williams - Credit: Photo: Pete Stevens - CreativeEm

Leaflet drops by the Liberal Democrats have continued despite a message from the government which says to Stay at Home. 

And at a recent county council meeting, the leader of Hertfordshire Cllr David Williams expressed his annoyance at a Hatfield county councillor continuing Local Election campaigning during the pandemic. 

Cllr Williams said on February 23: "Such is the arrogance and disregard for the rules that the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrat group Paul Zukowskyj was photographed last week by outraged residents in Hatfield, rucksack on his back, delivering his election's communications house to house."

He added that this was a widespread problem across Herts with Lib Dems "ignoring" the lockdown by campaigning in Watford, Royston and Berkhamsted.

The leader also explained that the advice from the cabinet office urged all political parties not to campaign during this period. 

Chloe Smith, minister of state for the constitution and devolution, said in a letter to political parties: "The Government’s view is that these restrictions do not support door to door campaigning or leafleting by individual political party activists." 

Cllr Williams added that campaigning advice will be amended by the government on March 8 to allow for some activities to take place in a "COVID secure way". 

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"In the meantime, I will be drawing Cllr Zukowskyj activities to the attention of the police and the local monitoring officer."

Cllr Paul Zukowskyj

Cllr Paul Zukowskyj - Credit: Archant

The Lib Dem county councillor did not deny these activities and claimed neither the police or monitoring officer have been in touch. 

He said: "I refuse to play the nasty little game that Tories and Labour are conspiring in to try to damage our democracy through peddling of this fake news and their despairing attempts to ‘ban’ opposition, the like of which is reminiscent of some totalitarian banana republic.

"If Cllr Williams does as he stated, I do hope the police charge him with wasting police time.

"The letters I was seen delivering were all delivered after the date of this email and after the rigorous assessment outlined in the documents. I was wearing PPE and made sure at all times my activities were COVID safe."

Though this was a different statement that the Lib Dems told the WHT a few weeks ago when leaflet drops were raised at a Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council meeting. 

Leader of Welwyn Hatfield Lib Dems Cllr Malcolm Cowan said in mid-February: "The delivery that was being referred to was paid for delivery, which is clearly permitted. Had either leader bothered to ask, we would have told them."

The Lib Dems also directed the WHT to the party's guidance around how its activist should respond to questions from the media around campaigning. 

The guidance claims that the Conservative party is encouraging their activists to make "vexatious" complaints about Lib Dem activities and refers to the National Police Chiefs’ Council volunteer guidance. 

The NPCC stated: "It was reasonably necessary for the volunteer to leave home in order to achieve the outcome intended by delivery of the leaflets and that it was not reasonably possible for that outcome to be achieved from home."

Welwyn Hatfield Labour leader Cllr Kieran Thorpe. Picture: Supplied by Cllr Thorpe

Welwyn Hatfield Labour leader Cllr Kieran Thorpe. Picture: Supplied by Cllr Thorpe - Credit: Archant

Welwyn Hatfield Labour leader Cllr Kieran Thorpe also responded to Cllr Zukowskyj's view that Labour is trying to "undermine democracy" by being against this type of campaigning. 

Cllr Thorpe said: "I wasn't surprised to hear the Conservative county leader confirm that the Liberal Democrats had been ignoring all the guidelines by continuing to campaign throughout the lockdown across Hertfordshire.

"I was stunned to be told when telephone canvassing residents of my local area that this has continued right up to last weekend even after the Lib Dems were warned the matter had been passed to the police and council monitoring officers.

"This isn't a game, the rules are there for everyone to observe and at a time when the public is asked to continue to follow them for the good of everyone and get out of this lockdown as soon as possible, it is simply offensive to see elected officials refuse to without any sense of apology."

Herts police, who have also been informed of the Lib Dems leafleting according to the party, have also been contacted for a response. 

Local Elections take place on May 6 for borough, county and parish councillors, along with the police and crime commissioner. Register to vote here.