Today an MP threatened to complain to the Information Commissioner about an increasingly popular campaigning group cause which called on his constituents to email him.
Dealing with correspondence from the public – their potential voters – is one of the reasons politicians receive funding money for support staff who can deal with that correspondence. That he threatened to report them to the Information Commissioner seems nuts.
Seems this chap has forgotten that his role is to serve constituents in making society a better, fairer place but before that – listening to their needs. And by listening to issues from the public, which is one of the things we pay him to do, he may even rack up a few votes in the process – remember that old chestnut?
I don’t yet know the nature of the campaign or even the volume of emails this MP received, but I’m waiting for a reply about that from Johnny Chatterton, the 38 Degrees campaigner and blogger who first flagged this up.
On the other hand, this story just might have opened the can of worms gathering dust on the shelf labelled: ‘why mass email campaigns backfire.’ Dissing the public in this way seems like a really dumb move particularly if those emails were individually written. The good thing is that this makes for an opportune moment to ruminate over whether or not those mass template emails to MPs really work.
And on those mass messages, one member on the E-Campaigning Forum mailing list I subscribe to where I heard about this said: “I can’t help feeling that an MP will just look at it and think, ‘You didn’t write this, you probably didn’t even understand it. Why should I take you seriously?’
Among the flurry from co-mailees responding to Johnny’s original message in my inbox, somone posted this relevant part of a Clay Shirky presentation made at Personal Democracy 2010 (New York City, June 2010). Ooh he’s a clever fella.
When email campaigns backfire, says Shirky, it’s because politicians find it very “difficult to pull the signal from the noise” and “an email campaign looks a lot like spam.” I totally get that but overall. What’s worse in the backfiring stakes is an MP who grumbles about emails – template or otherwise – his constituents send him on about a topic they actually care enough about to bother to send, then threaten to grass them up to Sir.