Gloucestershire police spokeswoman: “the activity of delivering leaflets does not contravene Covid Legislation”

Gloucestershire Live today quotes a Gloucestershire police spokeswoman as follows:

Last week we received a report from a member of the public about people dropping leaflets through residents’ letterboxes.

There was no suggestion that they were knocking on doors or engaging directly with the homeowners.

Covid legislation states that there are exemptions that allow people to leave their homes. One of these exemptions is for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services, where it isn’t reasonably possible to do so from their home.

Therefore the activity of delivering leaflets does not contravene Covid Legislation.

The background to this is explained by a press release from Gloucester Liberal Democrats:

Political opponents are trying to gag a well-known Liberal Democrat councillor in Gloucester.

Councillor Jeremy Hilton has been reported to the police and to Gloucester City Council and Gloucestershire County Council for delivering his community newsletter to residents across Kingsholm and Wotton.

The move comes after the Conservative Government attempted to ban political parties delivering leaflets just weeks before May’s local elections – elections the Tories are determined to press ahead with.

Among the local news items the Conservatives are objecting to are:

▪ Offering advice and support during the latest Covid-19 lockdown

▪ Urging people to take up offers of vaccination

▪ Information about a hot food wagon being refused a licence to trade on Estcourt Road

▪ Details of a planning application on Denmark Road

Councillor Hilton said when he was first elected 1982, he made a promise to the electorate he would keep in touch with regular Spotlight community newsletters.

I’ve kept that promise and the latest edition is number 215.

I have been a councillor in total for 30 years and up until now no-one has ever reported me to the police for distributing my Spotlight newsletter.

It is a vital part of a local councillor’s job to keep in touch with residents, especially those who do not have access to the internet and who may be vulnerable.

That is exactly what I have been doing – keeping in touch with local residents at this difficult time.

Last month Government minister Chloe Smith wrote to political parties claiming the current lockdown regulations did not permit the delivery of leaflets.

Yet the same regulations do not outlaw the distribution of pizza leaflets, newspapers, Amazon deliveries or the Royal Mail.

The World Health Organisation says there is no risk of coronavirus being transmitted via paper leaflets.

Councillor Hilton said:

It is no co-incidence that the letter from the minister came the day after Boris Johnson met 300 Tory party chairpersons virtually.

The minister’s letter has not changed the law – it is just an attempt to gag a hard working Liberal Democrat councillor.

The Government is saying the local elections will be held in a few weeks’ time and it is nonsense the Tories want to ban my community newsletter when other leaflets are still being delivered.

With the utter chaotic way the Conservatives have handled the pandemic, thank God for the scientists who developed the vaccines and the NHS for rolling out the vaccination programme at high speed.

The latest advice from the party on campaigning during Covid says:

Paid delivery options

The Royal Mail Door to Door service provides delivery of unaddressed literature by postcode sector. LDHQ is offering regular bulk deal options and can help guide local teams through the process.

Many local paid delivery companies are still operating and should be used where found to be reliable.

For addressed items, mailing houses are still operational and can be used. There are a number of postage fulfilment options available, approved suppliers are listed here.

Templates for unaddressed leaflets and posted direct mail also exist on the Campaign Hub (Sign up here for access to the Hub). Email [email protected] for help and advice.

Voluntary delivery options

The current lockdown guidance and legislation expressly permit people to leave their home to provide voluntary services that cannot reasonably be undertaken from home (see here).

You should not deliver political election leaflets as a volunteer activist.

You may support a local councillor and/or provide printed literature that is not political in nature (e.g. information on food bank availability). The Campaign Hub will shortly have templates for this non-political support literature.

Anyone delivering non-political literature must take suitable precautions. Wear a mask during delivery, use hand sanitiser before and after delivering, avoid any small enclosed spaces, such as within some blocks of flats, and avoid coming into contact with any individual from outside your own household. Do not meet in groups of people from outside your household. If distributing leaflets to others, leave them packaged on doorsteps and not handed directly to someone.

Doorstep engagement

We advise against door to door contact with voters unless it is as part of a coordinated attempt to offer help to those who may need it during lockdown. In these circumstances, read our full advice page here. We have based this advice on independent advice commissioned by the Institute of Fundraising and the Fundraising Regulator. You can read their full report here.

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20 Comments

  • It may be legal by the letter of the law. But I am not sure how it will go down with the general public, especially those who are shielding, who may consider that it goes against the spirit of what is trying to be achieved by the lockdown.

  • Isn’t it amazing that a party which has spawned the most incompetent government in living memory is brilliant at muddying the waters to undermine opposition campaigners? It’s of a piece with their setting a huge value on avoiding accountability while misunderstanding the relationship between winning elections and running the country.

  • I think it will be very important to ensure that leaflets are from current councillors and contain a high proportion of helpful information, not just advertising achievements or anything too obviously campaigning. It will also be essential that no-one travels in order to deliver leaflets for the time being.

    There’s always going to be a risk that you’ll upset someone, and regardless of what WHO says, some people will still be a bit nervous about leaflets, or who use the delivery of leaflets as something to complain about. This is something that local councillors should be able to judge, but IMO, if in doubt, err on the side of caution.

    This does make things harder for candidates who are not existing councillors. The temptation may be there to try to argue that it’s not against the rules, and not increasing anyone’s risk of transmission, but some people will assume it is dangerous and against the rules, and won’t change their minds. Some of those people are potential voters.

    On one hand, I say we should make a fuss, challenge this and draw attention to the backhanded nature of the advice. However, it is likely to come across a bit like our support for PR. We’re advocating for democracy, which benefits the public, but is so very easily twisted to look like we’re out for ourselves.

  • David Evans 2nd Feb '21 - 6:05pm

    @Geoff Reid – your sense of irony does you credit. For those who don’t quite get it.

    1) The Conservatives will adopt every dirty tactic they can to win elections;
    2) They are very good at it.
    3) Their sole aim is to win elections so they can govern, and
    4) They govern so they can win the next election.
    5) As a result they win much more often than they lose.

    In contrast

    1) Lib Dems try to be fair during elections
    2) They are not very good at it.
    3) Their aim is to get in government to do a good job
    4) They will do what they believe is the best while in government, even if it means they lose next time
    5) As a result they lose almost every time.

    There is an old saying “If it’s worth fighting for, it’s worth fighting dirty for.”

    Consider.

  • @David, I agree with your assessment of the Tories, but I don’t think we can ignore the significance of the attitudes of the typical Tory voter vs LibDem voter. IMO, far fewer Tory voters are bothered about supposed dirty tactics than LibDem ones. We have more to lose by being branded as sailing close to the wind on the regulations than they do.

    So long as the leaflets themselves can be defended as being helpful to residents, especially those who may not have easy internet access, then it should be fine. Moreso if it’s very, very obvious to the casual leaflet observer that it’s an informative update, not a party political advert.

  • John Marriott 2nd Feb '21 - 6:41pm

    @David Evans
    I would agree with most of what you have written, except for one of your assertions. Many Lib Dems are not that bothered about winning anything, especially if it means in any way compromising their beliefs. It’s the campaign that really excites them in the same way that attending conferences also does.

  • David Evans 2nd Feb '21 - 6:41pm

    Fiona, I believe it is worse than that.

    The Cons have manoeuvred a situation where any leaflet drops by us will be used against us in a propaganda war – a war we can’t win.

    Labour will do the same in those few areas that are left where we are competing against them.

    If they can the Cons will ensure that local elections are called with the minimum possible period of allowable campaigning, to stop us building any momentum in local campaigns.

    I believe “stitched up like a kipper” is the appropriate expression.

  • Two weeks ago on Politics South West the Green Party came in for some stick for leafletting in Exeter. The Conservative and Labour parties took great delight in putting the Greens on the spot. Of course as usual no LibDems were on the programme. So leafletters be aware!

  • nigel hunter 2nd Feb '21 - 8:43pm

    To me,the implication should be HEAVY use of all other opportunities ,Facebook Twitter etc. That can include crazy ways. Hiring a plane to fly a banner. Yes you can laugh but they can be picked up by media and used for humour,which still gets us noticed.unusual creativ ity can be noticed.

  • Obviously Gloucestershire Police aren’t interpreting things as their Notts colleagues are:
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-55909981

  • I predict a landslide for Cllr Hilton – well done to him!

    As I said in the previous thread to justify this the Conservatives have to come up with some science that shows that there is no threat from a) paid delivery b) voluntary delivery of non-political leaflets c) voluntary delivery of leaflets by councillors d) voluntary delivery of political leaflets by non-political activists.

    For some peculiar reason the covid virus is not attracted to any of those but is particularly attracted to voluntary delivery of political leaflets by party political activists. I can just see it saying no I won’t infect this leaflet it is paid delivery, um no I won’t infect this it is from a councillor, um no I won’t infect this leaflet it’s not about party politics – ahh ahh yes I will infect this leaflet it is a party politcal leaflets delivered by party activists. It’s genome must be cleverer than we thought!

    Really???!!!!! Get a life!!!!!!!!

  • David Howarth 3rd Feb '21 - 9:46am

    Andy Hyde. What is ludicrous here is that it is costing me £400 for a paid for delivery. I can save £300 by doing it myself and taking the fine!

  • The police have decided to reverse its advice. The councillor has now received a warning https://www.gloucestershirelive.co.uk/news/gloucester-news/gloucester-politician-warned-police-breach-4958054

  • nigel hunter 3rd Feb '21 - 12:18pm

    In Exeter what was the consequences to the Greens after being castigated for their deliveries ,good or bad?

  • Paul Barker 3rd Feb '21 - 12:43pm

    Lets take the “Hard Case” of Libdem Leaflets aimed at Electing New Councillors in May & full of actual Campaigning Politics, not just useful information.
    Such Leaflets would clearly be Legal but are they a good idea ? I say Yes. Its vital for Democracy that all Parties can compete on a “Level playing field”, not in a contest where Money talks & activists are silenced.
    The response of our Leadership has displayed a fatal lack of confidence in ourselves, in Liberal values & in Democracy itself, once again, We are far too anxious to be liked rather than respected.

  • Nigel Hunter. Regional TV has not mentioned it. As I live in west Cornwall I do not know about local press. This may be an overblown non-issue or a danger of what lies beneath the surface. Hard to be sure. But expect Conservative and Labour to unite against us if we do leaflet.

  • Steve Comer 3rd Feb '21 - 6:09pm

    Good to se my former LGA Lib Dem Group colleague Jeremy is campaiging successfully!

    But why are Liberal Democrat MPs not taking on the Government on this issue? If it is OK for Royal Mail to deliver, and OK for the local takeaway or a supermarket chain to deliver leaflets, then why is it not OK for political parties?

    The answer is that the Tories have shedloads of money given to them by hedge fund billionnaires and their ilk. Money they can use on vast social media campaigns and telephone canvassing operation! The have also learn’t from their friends in the Trump camp that the way to win elections is to make it as difficult as possibe for your opponents to vote.

  • neil James sandison 4th Feb '21 - 11:24pm

    We should turn this attack on local democracy and providing voluntary information into a virtue . We could put a disclaimer on the leaflet that it is compliant with the advice of WHO and other deliveries residents have received from both the private and voluntary sector providers for example free collection bags for cancer and children’s charity . Push back on this politically motivated attack on free speech and political censorship .

  • Now that the Government has confirmed that the local elections will take place in May, have they also ruled on which practical tasks can be undertaken by volunteers. Apart from the much-debated issue of delivering leaflets – which they say must be done by either Royal Mail or paid deliverers – their current ruling would seem to also rule out volunteers visiting electors to get signatures on the nomination papers. This could be very costly in the average council area where we fight one or two seats seriously but put up candidates elsewhere to show the flag, so we can’t be attacked by the other parties as being a marginal force across the whole authority.
    The Party nationally hasn’t given clear, unequivocal advice about the leafleting situation but it must tackle the fundamental question of our legal right to stand candidates in an election and how to obtain the required signatures.

  • John Probert 16th Feb '21 - 10:53am

    We need to know the Electoral Commission’s ruling on this matter.j

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