Monday, August 09, 2010

The Idiocy of Lobby Groups (Especially 38 Degrees)

The downright stupidity of sme lobby groups never ceases to amaze me. By definition, a lobby group is in the persuasion game, yet with MPs they can be surprisingly dumb-headed. The worst thing you can do is bombard an MP with postcards or standard letters, all saying exactly the same thing, all with identical wording. At some point or other they start having exactly the opposite effect to that intended. They are the parliamentary equivalent of junk mail.

The new version of this is for lobby groups to add MPs to an email list, and bombard them remorselessly with unsolicited and unwanted emails - all identical, all addressed to each and every MP.

My view, were I an MP, is that I would send them straight to the Junk Box. If someone can't be bothered to write their own email or letter, expressing their own views, why should they deserve a reply?

Conservative MP Dominic Raab has decided that enough is enough and any lobby group that sends out blanket emails is being asked by him to remove him for their email lists. But the idiots at 38 Degrees (a lefty lobby group for, well, anything lefty) have decided to misrepresent him and pretend that he has asked his constituents not to email him about anything.

Dominic Raab has set out his position HERE, while 38 Degrees' blogpost is HERE. Make up your own minds.

The only mistake Dominic has made is to ask the House authorities to remove his email address from their website. That's not a good idea as people who have genuine reasons to email him will no longer be able to access it. But I support his campaign against parliamentary junk mail, whether it is electronic or not.


Bee said...

It seems like Dominic Raab, MP has a campaign to make it as difficult as possible for his constituents to email him, be it via 38 degrees or not. His email address does not appear on his website nor on his entry on the House of Commons website. As for 38 degrees, a rudimentary knowledge of email filters should sort out the problem in a jiffy.

As a constituent of Mr Raab I find it highly offensive that he be so reluctant to communicate with me by email, using any form I choose to. HE represents ME and should be responsive to my views.

Curbishly said...

I would have thought that creating an email rule that targets 38 degrees emails as Junk Mail and getting them deleted automatically would be the simplest way.

Eben Marks said...

A constituent is a constituent, no matter what tool their emails are sent through and how original or unoriginal the content. As long as they're contacting the MP for their constituency, on an email address that their tax money pays for then they have every right to do so.

If an MP doesn't like it then they can always take up a post less visible to the public, Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds, for example.

Edward Bond said...


He doesn't want people sending him the same email over and over again from a template somebody else has created. Contacting him is fine. If you wish to do so then you should write to him with an individual message.

Besides, letters are fine. The point he made on his blog is that he would have used email but it had been filled with many cloned messages!

All Seeing Eye said...

to make it as difficult as possible for his constituents to email him

Also it's darned hard to reach him via carrier pigeon too. So what if he's dumped the most annoying communication medium of all?

Email is a horrific weapon in the hands of lobby and special interest groups. If a constituent needs to get hold of him, they can use what we in the olden days called "surgeries", "letters", a "telephone" or calling in to his constituency office.

Email is primarily the tool of the non-local non-constituent.

Cath said...

I'll bear that in mind next time I receive a pro-rata response from my MP.

Actually, I won't because I have no problem with receiving a standard response to a letter on a topic which, even if individually written must be very similar to many others on the same topic. MPs are busy people (well, more precisely their secretaries and researchers are) but so are their constituents.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bee - if you are just using a spam tool from a lobby group you are not 'contacting' your MP; you are just engaging in propaganda.

Its not rocket science to contact your MP, even people with a chip on their shoulder should be able to do it.

Lady Finchley said...

They are the bane of our existence. Most of the time people sign up for one campaign but the lobby group continues to send e-mails out whether the constituent signed up to the campaign or not. We reply to every single one unless they don't put their post address and I cannot count the number of times I have had a reply back demanding to know why we contacted them! I then have to patiently explain that they put their post code on the Save the Whales website (that is all they have to do, the computer generates the rest)etc etc.

To MPs, these are such a huge turn off and they get what they sent - a uniform response. If a constituent wants to write a proper e-mail/letter/fax with their own genuine point of view then they will get a response in kind.

As for 38 Degrees, Gordon Roddick, widower of the sainted Anita, is the mastermind and should really know better.

Osama the Nazarene said...

Is this Dominic guy that thick that he can't add 38 Degrees to his spam filter?

Unsworth said...

Can his campaign now be extended to the entire UK?

Unsworth said...

@ Cath

Pro-rata, eh? I'd like to get one of those....

BrendaC said...


I have experience of managing an MP's mailbox until quite recently and you would not belive the guff from the likes of 38 degrees.

Most MP's though think a tiny bit outside the box unlike Mr Raab and ask PICT to provide them with a 2nd mailbox, only used for communication with constituents, not widely publicised.


problem solved normally

Pogo said...

Personally,I reckon that "professional" lobby groups are an abomination and anything that can be done to make their "task" harder and less effective is a damned-good idea.

Delbert said...

I have no problem using automatic forms/webpages to enable me to quickly get my point of view accross to my MP or MPs. In the same way tabloids print forms to post off to the PM about the issue of the day, or magazines ask readers to sign up for a subscription - a pre-prepared easily sent form is convenient. Sounds like the MP is even lazier, than his constituents in this case!

Shamik Das said...

Oh. Dear. This man's a lawyer - yet doesn't appear to know the law!

As 38 degrees say:

"Mr Raab is a trained lawyer with friends in high places. Even though he appears to be wrong, he could cause us some trouble and cost us money in legal advice."

It's plain for everyone to see precisely what Raab's up to.

Also, note the following from

Dominic Raab has authored a book called "The Assault on Liberty", in which he rattles on about New Labour's attempts to side-step democracy and, according to Wikipedia, "attacks Britain's proud tradition of freedom".

What about the freedom, the liberty to contact an MP, eh? It's called democracy. Hypocrisy, hypocrisy, hypocrisy...

Paul Prentice said...

Spot on, Iain. It was only a matter of time before an MP went public on the tactics of groups such as this - if anyone's interested I blogged on this very subject just a few weeks ago. I'm sure a lot of other MPs will feel able to speak on the braindead methods of such groups.

I wonder when it was when people stopped being able to form their own views and opinions and writing a letter or email?

john in cheshire said...

Iain, I agree that people should make the general public aware of who is making waves. However, I think that you and everyone else who interfaces with the general public should ensure that all the subjects of your attentions are correctly identified as socialists and communists or marxists, whenever they are mentioned in your articles. In that way, the rest of us can determine why each individual is saying what they are determined to say. Perhaps even an attenuation regarding their love or otherwise of islam. Then we'll all know with whom we are dealing.

Anonymous said...

If a constituent has a genuine issue to raise, surely that is what should be addressed not the originality of their wording. By the same token, Dominic Raab can send one letter out to all who have used a form letter. Though in Dominic Raab's case, I don't think is quite up to it as I received four copies of his unsolicited newsletter in ten minutes.

Danny Law said...

Bee said - 'As a constituent of Mr Raab I find it highly offensive that he be so reluctant to communicate with me by email...'

you need to get a life mate - if you are highly offended by an MP not having an email address - you cant have much to worry about in your life

Unknown said...

I wonder if Mr Raab will stop sending out generic covering letters to government departments asking for answers to issues his constituents raise.

Perhaps, if he is so aggrieved at lazy e-maling, he may want to make sure his own house is in order and answer some of his letters himself rather than firing off a letter for the official line.

Alister said...

This is a two edged sword in that lobbying groups have the time and effort to gather together lots of information AND to go through the reams of Bills, Acts, Statutory Instruments and other regulations produced by government bodies.

If I as an individual wanted to write to my MP on an isuse I could BUT would I have the resources to enable me to correctly identify that proposed code of conduct (say Ofcom's file sharing) had issues with the legisation that sets it up and with the EEC (privacy) directives? I doubt it.

So What MPs have to realise is that their constituents are concerned, have easier means of contacting them on so called "hot button issues" PLUS their constituents now have groups capable of providing evidence to support the position. If this take the form of a standard letter then so be it.

Rather than shoot the messenger, which is effectively what Mr Raab is doing, he should be reading the message. After all all rather than having to read a number of similar messages, he only has one to read.

................................. said...

"The only mistake Dominic has made is to ask the House authorities to remove his email address from their website."

No Iain! They should still be able to contact him via an email submission form on the parliamentary website. It's bad practice to publish email addresses on websites anyway because you get, well, unsolicited junk mail as a result ;)

Lady Finchley said...

Alister - I can take you point but what MPs and their offices object to is the fact that all you need do is put your post code in on a particular website and off goes the e-mail - the 'sender' doesn't even have to read what goes out and very often doesn't. Also, once the 'sender' is on the list for that particular lobbying organisation, e-mails goes out in their name on every issue that organisation has an interest in. There is no way of really knowing whether that person really has an interest in the subject.

We recently had a computer generated e-mail on breast cancer research which said 'I have written to you before and you never responded'. I looked back on the entire inbox and sent box and there was never an e-mail from these two particular people before yet they said they'd written before. My boss takes his constituents' views very seriously as do I and we were mortified to think they'd been ignored - but they hadn't - it was just in the text of computer generated letter.

Indy said...

A sensible MP would reply to constituents and ignore anyone who was not a constituent.

In my experience most of these campaigns are organised on a constituency basis i.e. the member is given the contact details of his or her MP and a pro-forma email or letter to send them. If Dominic Raab is really getting hundreds of emails from constituents cluttering up his inbox it seems rather silly to ignore them.

It's not really that difficult to deal with. You just create a generic answer to reply, either by email or by mail merging a letter.

Jonathan said...

MPs should be delighted to receive emails on policy issues from constituents, whether pre-written or not.

As a representative anything that makes it easier to find out what is important to his/her constituents should be welcomed.

Lots of people care a little bit about a number of issues and in the middle of a busy working week participating in an 'email action' is a good way of playing a small part in our democracy.

MPs should devote more time to discussing policy issues with their constituents rather than making themselves feel better by trying to deal with someone's individual overcrowding or damp problem that would be better addressed by a qualified adviser.