The odd letter

Mail continues to be delivered to the Palace of Westminster.  As one MP once said to me, ‘MPs may take holidays, but letter writers don’t’.   MPs elected on 6 May will arrive in Westminster to find a large volume of mail waiting for them.   For new MPs, it is sometimes something of a culture shock. 

Increasingly, letter writers are discovering the House of Lords.   Although we do not have constituents, we get letters from people regarding legislation and particular issues that concern them.  Many are serious and often very helpful.  However,  like MPs, we do sometimes get mail that is best characterised as strange.  Some is of an extreme religious nature, often without a return address.  I once had a letter along the lines of ‘I am the voice of God on earth and so is my daughter.  By the way, I’m having problems with the local council…’.   Some letters initially seem to be making a rational point but then, as the letter progresses, you start to realise there is a problem.  There is, though, a giveaway before you have even started to read the letter.  If it begins by listing everyone it is sent to, and the list includes the Queen, the Prime Minister, the Lord Chief Justice, all members of the Cabinet etc., then you usually have some idea of what is coming.  I have just had one where the circulation list is even more extensive. 

The problem is knowing what to do with such letters.  It may seem impolite not to reply, but the danger in replying is that it will encourage them to keep sending more.  Finding time to reply to other correspondence is a problem, given our limited resources, and there is an opportunity cost if one replies to all such letters.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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13 Responses to The odd letter

  1. Frank W. Summers III says:

    It is to be hoped that the epistolary madness moves toward a senior house rather than from it.
    I am reminded of the Jester Wamba in Sir Walter Scott’s “Ivanhoe” who says to self-important truce-winning visitors from the Crusades that the truces with the infidel have made an old man of him. When asked how this is the case he replies that it is because: “I remember three of them in my day, each of which was to endure for the course of fifty years; so that by computation, I must be at least a hundred and fifty years old.”

    Whether Lamas, Princes of Coburg, Kings in Ghana, Cardinals of Manila or Trade Unionists in aging industrial cities, those outside formal power in the state often enough feel they are presented with utter and entire madness by those within. There is perhaps a balance if some madness flows back the other way. Not that the HoL produces any madness — I write of general principles.

  2. The Duke of Waltham says:

    “Finding time to reply to other correspondence is a problem, given our limited resources, and there is an opportunity cost if one replies to all such letters.”

    Could this apply to the blog as well? I fear I am guilty of writing some rather long comments, though hopefully nothing as strange as the divine mouthpiece of Your Lordship’s example.

  3. Lord Norton says:

    The Duke of Waltham: replying electronically is somewhat less demanding than sending a response in paper form. I would also add (indeed, am pleased to add) that the blog tends to attract informed comments.

    • The Duke of Waltham says:

      Thank you, My Lord. I suppose I’d have seen this point myself had I written more than three or four proper letters in my life.

  4. Carl.H says:

    Dear Lord Norton, HRH Queen Elizabeth, the Prime Minister, the Lord Chief Justice and all members of the Cabinet.

    Sounds like something a Government might send out…No worse than to the Occupier !

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: Some of the mail we receive does open with the equivalent of ‘Dear occupier’. We get all sorts: ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, ‘Dear MP/peer/lady’, ‘Dear member of parliament’. Some just begins ‘Dear’ (they forget to write in the name). I have to smile on occasion when it opens with ‘Dear Lord’.

  5. Carl.H says:

    What an odd lot of Nobility we have…… Not here or in Purdah has one wished Her Majesty Happy Birthday…..I hope they sent a card at least.

    I expect the same will happen on Friday on another important day !

    • Lord Norton says:

      Carl.H: I plan to go one better than a letter and attend upon Her Majesty on the occasion of her official birthday.

      I am also well aware of St George’s Day and, indeed, the campaign to make it a Bank Holiday.

      • Carl.H says:

        I think the public are behind the idea of a St. Georges Bank holiday. I note more crosses each year along with my own.

    • The Duke of Waltham says:

      I wonder how many people have noticed (unless, that is, it was mentioned on the television; the cannon-firing have been considered of interest). If Lord Norton was at Westminster today, he may answer this: did the flag fly from the Victoria Tower? It is my impression that it does on all flag days—even when Parliament is not sitting—but I haven’t been able to confirm it.

      • The Duke of Waltham says:

        Actually, I’ve found sources confirming the practice of recent decades (the flag did fly). The problem is that it may have changed in January, resulting in the flag’s flying every day

        Talking of flags, it has come to my attention that calls are regularly made for the Cross of Saint George to be hoisted on the Victoria Tower on 23 April, which are always rejected for being against flag-flying protocol. But I’d better stop here, as I am already deviating from this post’s subject.

  6. franksummers3ba says:

    Lord Norton and the rest of us,
    Being politicaly separate and seeing Her Britanic Majesty largely in a role of the Chief Royal of one of my lines of ancestral heritage I suppose I am not so bound by Official UK practice as most of you nor so imitative of it as DoW. Therefore, I will say a Very Happy Birthday To Elizabeth Windsor Regina ! May her year not be horribilus but rather a prospered one. The longest reigning living monarch has enough right to fill two days!

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