Should we be concerned about Stephen Phillips MP writing to constituents in response to 38 Degrees last campaign to say that he will;
‘in the future not respond to campaigns run by what purports to be a, but what to is most evidently not, a non-political organisation’
Perhaps not, unless you work for 38 Degrees and even then I suspect that you’d think it’s good publicity. Although this tweet suggests that it’s not simply Philips who take this approach to 38 Degrees at the moment.
But Philips isn’t the first to complain, last summer we had another Conservative MP, Dominic Raab say;
‘there are hundreds of campaign groups like yours, and flooding MPs inboxes with pro-forma emails creates an undue administrative burden. I welcome anyone who feels strongly about AV writing to me in person – rather than copying an automated template’
While a few weeks ago Labour backbench, Steve Pound MP wrote in Tribune;
‘On any given day there will be between three and five campaigning bodies, trades unions or special interest groups encouraging their members and supporters to e-mail their MP – and woe betide the miserable Member who fails to reply by return’
It is of course easy to dismiss these MPs as a few grumpy MPs who simply need to get control of their inboxes, but are these the views of a growing majority?
If so, then I do think we need to worry as it could mean that e-actions to MP could rapidly become a blunt and ineffective campaign tool.
I’m not aware of any empirical evidence that exists about the views of MPs about e-actions, but anecdotally the MPs I’ve heard will tell you that they see e-actions as being less ‘influential’ as a handwritten letter, which itself is less ‘influential’ than a visit to a surgery (or similar).
I don’t think that this response of Philips means we should stop running e-actions to MPs, but I do wonder if as campaigners we need to work with the Speakers office and others within Parliament to help to identify a way of ensuring that those who take e-actions as a legitimate way of engaging in the democratic process aren’t ignored by MPs who simply think that these actions are a ‘nuisance’.
But it also highlights the importance of using other tools in our campaigning to demonstrate grassroots support, perhaps more interestingly is the description that Guido Fawkes used to describe 38 Degrees in his blog as a ‘left-wing astroturfing operation’.
Astroturfing being a term used in the US for a number of years to describe as ‘advocacy in support of a political, organizational, or corporate agenda, designed to give the appearance of a “grassroots” movement’.
It’s of course unfair and unfounded to because one of the other tactics that 38 Degrees selected to use to campaign on the NHS Bill was to encourage the public in Lib Dem constituencies to phone their MPs, and they’ve also spent months building local groups to get behind the campaign.
But the impression that some see many of the e-actions we’re generating as a sector are coming from organisations that don’t have any ‘grassroots’ support behind them is a concern, especially if the majority of MPs start to view them in this way.
Perhaps if there is a lesson to take from all of this, it’s that tending to and building a ‘grassroots’ is as important as building a big mailing list to generate e-actions.
Do you agree? How much longer do you think e-actions to MP will remain effective?