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.