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dot life Monday, 7 October, 2002, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
Do MPs answer their e-mails?
How good are MPs at answering e-mails and faxes from their constituents? A survey suggests that some are good at it, and some aren't... Step forward Iain Duncan Smith.

A new logo is appearing this week at the Conservative Party conference, designed to show a modern party at ease with today's forms of communication - it's simply "Conservatives.com".

Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith, kicking off his conference in Bournemouth

But in a study of how much members of Parliament answer their constituents' e-mails and faxes, the Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith came out bottom, scoring 0%.

A spokesman for him declined to comment on the statistics.

Tory MPs in general, however, outperformed their Labour and Lib Dem rivals, scoring 70%, against 58% and 52% respectively.

Top of list

And it was a Conservative MP at the top of the list - Andrew Hunter, MP for Basingstoke, who answered 100% of his constituents' e-mails and faxes within 14 days.

In an unfortunate twist for the Tories, the party will draw no consolation from Mr Hunter's performance - last week he announced he was leaving them to join Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party.

The very uneven performance by MPs raises questions about how far the information revolution has penetrated Westminster since, while many have websites, the average score for replying to e-mails and faxes within 14 days was just 61%.

Preference

The survey was compiled by FaxYourMP.com, a website which enables members of the public to write a letter to their MP in their browser. The letter is then forwarded by the site, reaching the MP either as a fax or by e-mail, depending on the MP's preference.

FaxyourMP.com
Implications for extension of e-government?
Six members, including Henley MP Boris Johnson, have told the site they do not wish to receive either faxes or e-mails.

The survey covers more than 8,000 messages forwarded by the site since the last general election, and measures if MPs have answered their constituents within 14 days (the government target for answering mail is 10 days). It does not include those faxes or e-mails which people may have sent independently of the site.

Complete listing

The statistics, a complete listing of which is available on the FaxYourMP site (see Internet Links), have a number of qualifications to them. Many of the MPs received just one or two messages, meaning their score becomes somewhat disproportionate. Mr Duncan Smith received 17 messages, while Mr Hunter received 29.

The survey was conducted by contacting the constituents after the two weeks' was up and asking if they had received a reply. The constituents responded in 80% of cases.

Andrew Hunter MP
Andrew Hunter, sent 29 messages
FaxYourMP spokesman Stefan Magdalinski said there were some caveats to the statistics. But he said the overall patchy performance raised questions about the government's ambitions towards "e-government", particularly online voting.

"It's the first time anyone has tried to measure MPs' performance in this way with such a large sample. In general we've employed the same measures as the MPs expect when monitoring government departments or local authorities - and the MPs themselves come nowhere near."

Councils would be expected to answer 95% of mail within two weeks, he said, so the MPs' average performance of 61% was not very good.

Responsible

"We're really pleased by the fact that people are using the site in a responsible way," said Mr Magdalinski. "We sensed a feeling among MPs when we started that constituents weren't really trustworthy, and I think we've shown that's not the case.

No thanks - MPs who asked not to receive e-mails or faxes
David Atkinson (Con)
Eric Forth (Con)
John Wilkinson (Con)
Colin Burgon (Lab)
Piara S. Khabra (Lab)
Boris Johnson (Con)
"I think we'd like to show that rather than all the talk of e-voting, first we've got to fix the very basic mechanism for contacting MPs."

Volunteers

The site is run on a not-for-profit basis by volunteers, and has been responsible for passing on more than 35,000 messages from people who find it easier to contact their MP using the site than by conventional letters.

Mr Magdalinski said when the site organisers spoke to Americans about what they were doing, there was astonishment that the service they were providing was left to a group of volunteers. Members of Congress use e-mail as a standard means of communicating with their electors.

The Parliament website provides links to those MPs who have their own websites, and an e-mail form to some members.

Weely guide to getting buttoned up

See also:

24 Jun 02 | dot life
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