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Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 11:59 GMT
Websites of MPs slammed
House of Commons BBC
Only a handful of 97 webpages run by MPs were praised
By BBC News Online internet reporter Mark Ward

An informal survey of MP's websites has branded them "inept", "flaccid" and "bland".

The survey was carried out by the Institute of Economic Affairs to see how Britain's electronic electorate was being served by the websites of its elected representatives.

For the handful that are good there are lots that are dreadful

Tom Steinberg, Institute of Economic Affairs
The researchers say they uncovered an array of poorly conceived pages that conveyed little of an MP's personality and failed to inform constituents about what their MP thought and did.

The Institute said MPs are wasting a real opportunity to engage with constituents, show them where they stand on important local and national issues and bring government closer to them.

'Style disasters'

The informal survey of 97 webpages owned and run by MPs was completed earlier this month.

"I spent a couple of days going through them which was pretty much purgatory," said Tom Steinberg, a researcher at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). "For the handful that are good there are lots that are dreadful."

Patricia Hewitt BBC
Hewitt: "Comic ineptitude"
The survey rated each site for quality of the information, how readable and well-presented it was, how easy the site was to navigate around, and whether the personality of the politician shone through.

Mr Steinberg said few of the sites scored well in any of these categories and many of them made classic mistakes of design and readability.

"A lot of the sites will definitely aggravate people," he said.

The survey highlighted the "mildly comic ineptitude" of the website of designated e-minister Patricia Hewitt that has a glaring spelling error in its opening line, misuses web navigation features and invites visitors to get in touch by letter, rather than e-mail, with her constituency office in Leicester.

No excuses

It also slammed the "headache-inducing style disasters" of others that use clashing colours to eye-watering effect.

By producing such poor webpages, MPs were wasting an opportunity to communicate with constituents, said Mr Steinberg. Previously many people only talked to their MP when they had a problem the politician could help with. Now the internet gives MPs a chance to let everyone in their constituency know where they stand on popular issues.

"I don't believe the excuse that it cannot be done," said Mr Steinberg. "There are some hard-working MPs that do it and do it well."

He singled out the sites of Paul Flynn, Ann Widdecombe and Austin Mitchell as examples of successful webpages. Unfortunately, the website of Welsh MP Paul Flynn is currently offline due to technical problems.

The website of Great Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell was praised because it reflected much of the character of its owner and gave constituents a better idea of what his politics are.

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