Election candidate 'should be disqualified' for lockdown visit, say opposition
- Credit: Brent Council
Brent's Labour candidate in the Greater London Authority (GLA) elections is under fire for accompanying three other councillors to a foodbank in Alperton, in what is claimed to be an electioneering stunt during lockdown.
GLA candidate and Dudden Hill representative Cllr Krupesh Hirani, Brent Council leader Cllr Muhammed Butt, Alperton representative Cllr Trupti Sangani and Harrow councillor Ajay Maru attended a surplus food market at Alperton Baptist Church, organised by Sewa Day, on January 9.
In a Facebook video, Cllr Butt, wearing a face mask and surrounded by the three socially-distanced councillors, tells people Covid is the "worst pandemic ever" and that "it's a shame we live in a society where so many people are dying, so many people are without".
He then tells listeners to support Cllrs Hirani and Cllr Sangani, prompting accusations of electioneering.
The London Labour Party said the councillors were volunteering at the foodbank.
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Paul Lorber, former Liberal Democrat council leader, has filed a code of conduct complaint, accusing the councillors of deliberately organising the visit to the centre in Ealing Road so they could "take a group photo for party political purposes".
Cllr Butt and Cllr Sangani apologised last year after attending a religious service in breach of lockdown restrictions.
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Mr Lorber said Cllr Hirani, who represents Dudden Hill, "lives a long way from Ealing Road" and had no reason to be there but was "no doubt prompted to come along for the photo opportunity by the other two councillors in his capacity as the Labour candidate for Brent and Harrow in the forthcoming GLA elections".
Opposition GLA candidates have condemned the "photo shoot".
Cllr Anton Georgiou, Liberal Democrat candidate and Alperton councillor, said there was "absolutely no reason for Krupesh Hirani to travel with another Harrow councillor" and two other councillors "when the message is stay at home".
"If they went there on their own volition to volunteer I would say 'no need' because Sewa had enough volunteers," he said.
"Taking the time to do a video and to highlight a particular candidate for an election in May at this point is ridiculous. It's about public safety surely rather than political stunts and political PR. It's absolutely the wrong time to be doing it.
"The fact that Krupesh Hirani thought it was appropriate to go to another part of the borough far away from where he is to do a political PR stunt astounds me and he should really consider his position as a GLA candidate."
He added there are "ways to communicate virtually, you can always phone canvass".
Conservative candidate Molly Samuel-Leport MBE said: "The complaint should be upheld.
"I would go further and ask for a disqualification. This is a form of subliminal campaigning, and puts the opposition, in our case, Conservatives, at a disadvantage. And to be honest this decision was knowingly done."
She added: "This isn’t the first time either, with regards to Cllr Butt. If I’m not breaking the rules, can someone tell me why another should be allowed to get away with doing the opposite?"
The Green Party's Emma Wallace, said the gathering was "not well advised" and highlighted social media to connect to people.
"I don't think Krupesh Hirani should stand down but he should look at his actions and he should consider how he's connecting with people at the moment and be responsible with his campaign," she added.
A London Labour Party spokesperson said, on Cllr Hirani's behalf : "Volunteering at food banks is rightly permitted under the lockdown rules. The councillors were providing volunteers with essential PPE and have longstanding relationships with the organisations that have set up this vital food support project."
Cllr Butt, who was ill with Covid over Christmas, said he was asked to go along and raise awareness.
"You'd have to be living on another planet not to realise how many people are struggling right now, how desperate their situations are, so it’s vitally important that they know help is available – I make no apology for that," he said.
"We had all the right PPE on, we kept our distance, and the event itself was well within the rules and guidelines."
Cllr Sangani said she was asked to "lend my support to Sewa Day in order to donate PPE kits and raise awareness about this noble work".
She said they were following all government guidelines: "Hence, I make no apology given the situation but it is a shame that others are trying to undermine the work to support the ones who so desperately need help."
Cllr Maru was approached for comment.
A Brent Council spokesperson said: “The council’s monitoring officer has received a complaint which is being investigated.”