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central gvernment, e-democracy, email

MP says no to constituents’ emails.

 

Dominic Raab MP

A newly-elected Conservative MP has refused to receive email from his constituents, according to a leading UK campaign website set up by a former Obama Presidential aide.

The website, 38 Degrees, says Dominic Raab MP, who was elected in May to represent Esher and Walton, even threatened to report them to the Information Commissioner if they did not remove his standard House of Commons email address from their website, despite this being freely available on several other websites including the BBC site.

38 Degrees encourages citizens to email their MPs on issues about which they feel strongly, using an automatically-generated ‘template’ email, which can be tailored. According to the organisation, Raab has only received around 100 such emails from constituents since he was elected. However, he has now asked for both his personal and his House of Commons email addresses to be removed. 38 Degrees has refused to back down, saying advice they have received from the Office of the Information Commissioner last week states that all Parliamentary email addresses are in the public domain.

“His feathers were ruffled,” said Hannah Lownsbrough, 38 Degrees’ Campaigns Director. “He got in touch with my colleague to ask for his email not to be made available from the website. He’s taken his email address off his website – that decision has been made without his constituents,” she said. Raab’s reaction was not typical of the general response from MPs to their service, Lownsbrough said.

“The overwhelming response we have from MPs is that they are delighted to be in touch with constituents more regularly”. However, she said Raab has said he welcomes anyone who feels strongly about an issue to write to him personally – rather than copying an automated template – and they would always received a reply.

In the meantime, Raab, who has his own regularly updated blog, had removed his email address from his own website and from MP information website TheyWorkForYou.com, although it was still available on a BBC web page. He was not available for comment.

Named after the angle of friction necessary for an avalanche to happen, 38 Degrees is a non-partisan organisation developed by former Obama Presidential campaign aide Ben Brandzel and co-founded by Gordon Roddick of The Body Shop.

One tech-savvy Labour MP has cast doubt on the efficacy of Raab’s stand. Alun Michael MP, a former Labour technology minister and chair of the Parliamentary IT Committee, said: “I find it surprising. It’s necessary for MPs to be available to constituents. The point of the House of Commons email address is to make it easy. People can go to the House of Commons website if they are not sure who their MP is, put in postcode and get email address. I think it’s basic.

“It’s a question of what you are trying to do by sending email. I’d say MPs have to be open to constituents communicating with us – it comes with a lot of pressure but that goes with the territory.

“We need a debate on how to make email and general internet communications more effective for sender and recipient. As MPs we have to be as open to constituents as possible. It’s a question of how quick and easy it is for constituents and how manageable it is for MPs. We need a discussion between people from these campaigns and MPs.”

With the threat of a formal complaint against 38 Degrees still looming, the organisation this morning published the entire email exchange with the MP and ran a poll asking all of the 38 Degrees members who live in the constituency of Esher and Walton how they would like to respond and whether the group should remove the MP’s email address from the website.

NOTE: Further to the last post on this topic, this is the more fully written up piece I speculatively wrote up for the Guardian on the premise it would be exclusive to them, a scoop no less! While they were very interested, unfortunately, the news was posted on the 38 Degrees website before they could commission it.

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Discussion

3 thoughts on “MP says no to constituents’ emails.

  1. Brilliant post about it here, from Christina Martin’s blog: http://christinalouisemartin.blogspot.com/2010/08/sorry-somethings-gone-wrong.html . In the comment chain below, she makes this point: “. . . I’ve worked in ministerial offices so I know that when I elect to email my MP about something, I am not *actually* emailing my MP. I’m emailing his team, or his PA. They will then decide what to pass on for action, or put together a response with his name added to it. He’s just not interested in his constituents. Luckily I didn’t vote for him or I’d be feeling even more cheated.”

    Posted by melpoluck | August 9, 2010, 12:19
  2. As a constituent of Dominic Raab I have been less than pleased at the news that he is making it harder for people to contact him by email. His response to the 38 degrees article on his blog is patronising in the extreme and not a little bit disingenuous. He implies that he is merely trying to stop mountains of proforma emails, but fails to note that his email address is not on his website, nor on the House of Commons website entry for him, indicating that he is reluctant to receive *any* email communication from constituents. I also resent the implication that receiving emails from me letting him know my views so that he can REPRESENT THEM IN PARLIAMENT is such a nuisance that he cant deal with constituents in ‘real need’.

    I attempted to communicate my feelings about these issues in the comment section of his blog which states ‘The site policy is to publish all comments, unless abusive or anonymous’, but failed to do so as both times I tried the comment disappeared into the ether. Maybe the site is being swamped, although I note that nearly an hour later there are no comments posted. I suppose I am going to have to email him then….

    Posted by Bee | August 9, 2010, 15:26
    • I wonder whether he has tried to manage his emails differently, eg create a filter for emails containing certain key words? That way all email coming in from constituents as part of campaigns facilitated by lobby groups will appear separately categorised – it might help him feel less overwhelmed.

      I did try to contact Dominic Raab for his side of the story and spoke to his [assistant? secretary?] a couple of times but he wasn’t available for comment.

      Email is a convenient way to communicate and it can even be as personal and powerful as a hand-inked letter sealed with wax and a monogrammed stamp if worded eloquently enough, but there are other campaigning tactics/ forms of communication. Perhaps this calls for a good old fashioned face-to-face meeting in the Westminster lobby?

      As Alun Michael MP says, maybe the good thing to have come from this debacle is that it calls into question the power of template emails which haven’t been tailored or personalised. I can see that the message may get lost among the noise but at least that method raises an issue and shows an MP what is playing on their constituents’ minds.

      Posted by melpoluck | August 9, 2010, 15:58

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