MPs get hundreds of emails and letters from constituents. I try to answer every one in reasonable time. But, MPs have finite time and resources, and I also want to prioritise those in the greatest need.
It is a difficult balance. My approach is to ask those with a problem or issue they want me to take up to write in, so I have full details and can check they are constituents (it is a protocol that you do not take up the case of other MPs’ constituents). I hold regular surgeries. I send out a monthly bulletin to anyone who signs up. I actively encourage constituents (on my blog and website) to write to me, comment on my blog, email my association, telephone my office or book a surgery appointment. I live and commute from the constituency, which helps me stay in touch. Every week, I meet businesses, charities and residents across the borough.
At the moment, I am on crutches (after hip surgery), but I am determined to use the August Parliamentary recess to hold six open public meetings across the constituency so I can hear direct from residents, starting next week (advertised on this blog and in the local press).
All of this takes time and energy. You have to prioritise. One of the things I found as an MP, is that every lobby group puts you on their email distribution list – or an automated system that sends out cloned messages from members of the public who access it. I ask for my email address to be removed from such systems and encourage constituents to contact me direct (as above). Otherwise, my email inbox gets deluged by lobby group emails – and that detracts time and effort from dealing with the many constituents who raise problems or issues.
One such lobby group is a company called 38 Degrees – campaigning for AV amongst a range of other lib-left causes. By asking them politely to remove me from their system, which allows its supporters to click and send an automated email, I have incurred their wrath. They have published a blog post on their website. People will be able to judge for themselves whether I am behaving reasonably or not. I believe campaign groups have their place, but I don’t see why lobby groups should be able to bombard MPs (or anyone else for that matter) with emails, if they request their address to be removed.
Reasonable people may differ on all of this. Fair enough. But 38 Degrees are now resorting to slur, through the rather silly, false and malicious misrepresentation of what I have said. The headline of their blogpost reads: “DOMINIC RAAB MP TELLS CONSTITUENTS ‘DON’T EMAIL ME … IT’S BECOMING A REAL NUISANCE’.” Whatever your political persuasion, that is clearly a total distortion of what I told them. I just don’t want 38 Degrees using my email for their mass e-lobbying campaigns – any more than I do a commercial lobby group or trade association.
UPDATE I: A number of people have asked whether I reply to constituent emails to my HoC address. Yes, absolutely – and it is very easy to work out an MP’s email address (surname, initial, @parliament.uk). For those in any doubt, there is a phone number on my contact pages, so people can obtain it (for major issues I still prefer a letter with full details and address). The reason I stopped formally advertising my actual email address is that the Information Commissioner’s Office advised me that, if I do, I am putting it in the public domain and then cannot ask for it to be removed from mass e-distribution lists or automated systems.
UPDATE II: Thanks for the texts, emails and suggestions. I have adopted the best one – an E-contact form that maximises my accessibility to constituents, but does not advertise my email address to lobbyists. I would prefer to publish my email address, as I did until recently. So, I have also written to the Information Commissioner seeking clarification of the right to have an email address removed from the automated devices and distribution lists that lobby groups deploy to send clone emails.