The recent publication of MP’s expenses has given journalists – whose expense claims remain undisclosed – much to write about. The electorate will come to its own judgment as to whether or not we all earn our corn. But one fact is undeniable; today’s electors write with far greater frequency to their MP than before, and the letters raise issues which are more complicated – because life has become more complicated.
If MP’s are to process this growing volume of correspondence intelligently and promptly– much of it raising issues of enormous importance to those who write to us – we need the resources to do so. And the allowances are about £1.50 per constituent per year.
Technology has come to the rescue. For example, MP’s have a convention that we don’t “poach” by dealing with each other’s constituents. Rather like dogs, we mark out our territory in order to defend it. But how do you tell whether a particular property from which someone has written– perhaps built in Kempshott since the last Boundary Review – is in your patch or in the Basingstoke constituency? In the old days, you would dig out a map of the constituency, work out where the address was, if the road was on the map, and act accordingly.
If it was a complicated constituency case and it turned out the writer was not one of yours, you would suppress any feeling of relief and forward it to the appropriate colleague, writing to the person concerned saying that you had forwarded it to your neighbour, whose diligence in pursuing Government departments on behalf of his constituents was unsurpassed. If it was one of yours, you would process it with every bit as much diligence Now, thanks to technology, you type in any postcode on the computer and, bingo, the name of the local MP appears in a nano-second.
It has had corresponding benefits for constituents; they can find out in a nano-second who their MP is (www.locata.co.uk/commons); and, in a further nano-second, email him or her with their views. (One MP, who shall remain nameless, refuses to have anything to do with this new means of communication. A hundred years ago, he or she might have denounced the telephone as an unwanted intrusive device. His (or her) constituents email me instead, and ask me to take the printout to his room)
But the switch from snail mail to email has deprived me of one potential response. During an all-night sitting, I collected my mail from the Member’s Post Office when it arrived at 6am. One letter, from an irate constituent, insisted that I rang him the moment I got his letter. I obliged.