It’s all gone a bit political here at mattdeegan.com as I want to tell you about HearFromYourMP.com. It’s a website by the MySociety people, who have two missions: “The first is to be a charitable project which builds websites that give people simple, tangible benefits in the civic and community aspects of their lives. The second is to teach the public and voluntary sectors, through demonstration, how to most efficiently use the internet to improve lives.”
HearFromYourMP takes an interesting problem and turns it upside down. I think it’s only fair that our democratically elected representatives talk to us more than just when they want to get elected. What with the internet and everything this shouldn’t be a particularly difficult thing. Some MPs do a good job through blogging and podcasting, but they’re more the exception that proves the rule.
My own MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, is particularly rubbish. He has a website – http://www.jimfitzpatrickmp.co.uk – which is never updated and serves, mainly, to display pictures of himself. I also regard him as a rubbish MP as for most of his time in parliament he’s never really spoken about anything in the House. This is because he was a senior whip, and apparently that’s not the thing to do. He’s now an under-secretary so will be pretty much slavishly following the government line. Career or constituents? I don’t know.
Now actually he might not be a rubbish MP, he might be a great one, battling injustices and making Poplar and Canning Town a hub of regeneration and life long learning. However, he never tells me, a mere constituent, what he’s up to. So, last year before the election, I emailed him to ask why he didn’t use his website to communicate to me what he, and i’m sure his hard-working constitutent team, actually did. He replied (via email) to say that updating a website is expensive and time consuming and his staff’s time is better spent doing other things. I think that’s rubbish. He did however put me on his (postal) mailing list so I did occassionally see some pictures of him shaking people’s hands.
The whole “it costs too much money” thing annoys me greatly – dead tree printing anyone? Especially as he spends the 64th most on staff out of 659 MPs. Other MPs manage to keep thier constitutents updated and he has merely chosen not to. So i’ve chosen not to vote for him.
What he really should be doing is making use of HearFromYourMP. If you go to the website and enter your details it will subscribe you to your MPs (email) mailing list. Well, in fact it will subscribe you to HearFromYourMP’s mailing list because most MPs don’t actually have one. Every so often it will contact your MP and say that x number of your constitutents want to hear from them. It then provides the tools for MPs to email everyone and even for constitutents to leave comments. It’s a great idea and one government should provide centrally rather than some enthusiastic citizens.
Jim Fitzpatrick, being a rubbish MP, has of course declined to use the system having been emailed twice that, currently, 72 of his constituents (including me) would like to hear from him.
Other MPs have made use of it interesting ways! Well done to you, David Howarth, MP for Cambridge he’s sent 4 emails to 200-odd constituents about topics that he’s doing something about. Recently he emailed everyone to say he was meeting the Chief Exec of a train company that’s changed a lot of its practices and asked for some questions/points to raise. He then raised them and reports back on his progress. If I move to Cambridge he will definitely get my vote.