Tory MP Dominic Raab has got himself into a bit of bother by asking the campaign group 38 degrees to remove his email address from its website. The group runs a number of campaigns, one of which is in favour of the alternative vote system. One of its chief forms of campaigning is to get visitors to fill in their details and send off a template email to their local MP. For Raab and other MPs, this means dozens, if not hundreds of similar looking emails arriving in their inbox on a certain issue – something he calls “lobby group politics”.
It is difficult to find much sympathy for Raab. His email address is provided by the Commons and is intended for his constituents to get hold of him. His attempts to get it removed from the public domain (as appears to be the case from the email correspondence published on 38 degrees’ website) runs entirely counter to the idea of representative politics.
But Raab is not alone. Before the election, I talked to a host of local candidates who complained of similar campaigns clogging up their inboxes. Some of them were actually quite forceful in tone (one children’s charity asked candidates to sign up to a list of spending pledges with the tagline “Will you stand up for children?”). Another MP tells us that one of his posters in his constituency was defaced after he neglected to sign up to a campaign.
Dealing with these emails, said the candidates, was frustrating and time-consuming, and what was worse, their frequency depended not on how strongly electors felt about it but how well-organised the campaign was (hence Raab talking about “lobby group politics”).
But when I mentioned this to most people outside politics, the response was the same. “So what? They should stop moaning.” And it’s hard to disagree. Yes, some of these emails are frustrating, and many of them tell you little about what voters’ true priorities are. But parliament has provided MPs with an email address for constituents to use, and it has provided assistants to help answer them. Dealing with a bit of unsolicited campaign material is hardly the highest cost to pay for maintaining an essential link between constituents and their representatives.
While many MPs will moan about what they regard as “spam” in private, don’t expect many of them to go as public as Dominic Raab has.