By Ed Davey
BBC News, London
One parent said politics had no place in playgrounds
Labour has been accused of inappropriately politicising children as young as three by standing at school gates and handing out party balloons.
Campaigners handed out the Labour-branded helium filled balloons outside several north London primary schools.
Alice McAllister, of Highbury, whose children go to one of the schools, called it "exploitative marketing".
The Conservative Party described it as "divisive" but a Labour spokesman said the Tories were "talking hot air".
The Liberal Democrats chose not to make any comment.
Some parents said they felt they had no choice but to let their children have the balloons to play with even if they did not support the Labour Party.
Mrs McAllister continued: "I would be interested to know why the Labour Party thought it was appropriate to stand outside my children's primary school, handing out helium-filled Labour balloons to pupils as young as three.
"No political party should be taking advantage of our youngest citizens."
She added: "Please keep politics out of our playgrounds."
Antonia Cox, Conservative parliamentary candidate in the area, called it a "mass propaganda operation".
She added: "It is a shame that Labour has done something so divisive. Certainly we heard complaints about this."
Emily Thornberry, Labour's parliamentary candidate for Islington South and Finsbury, was unavailable for comment.
A Labour Party spokesman said: "The Tories are talking hot air about balloons at school gates because they have nothing to say about the real issues affecting our children's education.
"Every parent should ask their Conservative candidate why they are planning to cut a massive £1.7bn from education budgets in just a few weeks time which would mean cutting 6,900 teachers from primary schools alone and 14,000 overall."
An Islington Council spokeswoman said they were powerless to prevent parties from hanging around school gates if they did not step into the playground.
She explained: "Although it's forbidden for school premises to be used for the distribution of political leaflets, it is permissible for political parties to use pavements and public walkways outside the school for such purposes."
The candidates announced for Islington South and Finsbury are:
Conservative: Antonia Cox; Richard Deboo: Animals Count; John Dodds: English Democrats; Bridget Fox: Liberal Democrat; James Humphreys: Green; Rose-Marie McDonald: UK Independence Party; Emily Thornberry: Labour.