E-mailing MPs

Last week, I circulated details to MPs of the next meeting of the all-party group on the constitution.  As soon as I had e-mailed the notice, I waited for my in-box to be inundated with automatic responses.  Rather than deleting them immediately, I did a quick study of them.   They are quite revealing.

MPs typically invite the senders, if constituents, to ensure they have provided mailing addresses and remind them that an MP cannot pursue a matter on behalf of another MP’s constituent.   Many will also say that correspondence is dealt with in the order that it is received.  Some also say that they try to turn correspondence round within x days and, if a reply is not received within that time, to write again.  At least one says that he tries to respond within 24 hours, which is impressive.  Another mentions the amount of correspondence he receives – “sometimes approaching 1,000 letters, emails and telephone calls a week”.

Most of the automated responses are relatively short.  A few are more detailed, explaining if the matter is for the local authority, or a devolved matter, how to contact the local authority or the devolved assembly.   Though most are simple e-mail text, some are more like letters with accompanying pictures.   Some also say that they will add the writer to the list of recipients for their e-newsletters, unless they ask not to be added. 

E-mailing peers results in fewer automated responses.  Those that use an automated response during a recess tend to keep the message short – usually just a one-line announcement of being out of the office until a particular date.  However, two responses from peers were particularly notable.  One announced she would shortly be on maternity leave – not the sort of message one normally gets in the Lords (the average age of peers is 69) – and the other, from Baroness Berridge, had a nicely designed message saying: ‘Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, With love, Elizabeth’.  MPs may wish to take note.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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12 Responses to E-mailing MPs

  1. Jonathan says:

    Are you suggesting there’s something wrong with the MPs’ automated replies? It seems sensible to send a message explaining who to contact with different types of problem. E-mail makes it all too easy to contact all sorts of people about matters they aren’t best placed to deal with.

    Having said that, last time I contacted my MP, I received a personal reply within about two minutes, which I thought was pretty impressive!

    • Lord Norton says:

      Jonathan: I am certainly not suggesting there’s anything with them at all. Quite the reverse. It just struck me that, from an academic perspective, they constitute a good research topic!

      Some MPs are very good at replying.

  2. maudie33 says:

    I have to add that my MP, although he does not do surgeries, his office responds very promptly. Sometimes within hours if the matter is urgent or serious.

    I have to confess, I like getting an email reply like that, very quickly, no matter how long it may take to deal with the situation. Because as nice as a letter delivered by the post man is, or how pretty the House of Commons stationary is, they often take some time to arrive. And in the meantime you are left wondering if it was received in the first place as the mail is so poor now.

    It has been just as effective with the local Councilor, she responds very quickly and gets right to the job, because the email is direct.

    Just the way this blog is:

    • Lord Norton says:

      maude33: Many thanks. People vary (thank goodness), and some people do like the speed of an e-mail response, whereas some much prefer a formal letter – it may take longer but is often taken as indicating more time and effort has been taken. I certainly send many more e-mails than letters, but that could be because I receive so many e-mails.

  3. Frank W. Summers III says:

    Lord Norton,

    I always find the range of automated responses interesting. One of my college fraternity brothers teaches at a small university and when I contact him there I am treated to real list of threats, warnings and intimations about how many bad things can happen to anyone using the universoty’s e-mail system. I suppose there must be some calue to it all in a lawsuit — I will be well warned if I publish his email without his permission. However, it certainly is a pain as the same garbage appears on his actual missives as a required tag. His case is the worst I have seen. But I also have informed a few relatives I will not use there email systems if I have to sign in repeatedly on their system or engage in generations of verifying e-mails.

    I suppose it is easy for me to complain as I do not own a site I am trying to protect.

  4. ladytizzy says:

    In the beginning, an email was no more than a memo, a note to be circulated between members of a group; Post-it notes, or ‘stickies’, became available and popular around the same time as email was more widely available, and Twitter has arguably combined the ideas and provided us with global stickies. Between them they might well have delivered the coup de grâce for letter-writing though whether this is a good or not so good thing is beside the point here.

    Despite the regular update of its bells and whistles, fundamentally email has not changed in that it is not an alternative for a letter and senders of emails are likely to understand that the contents will be skimmed rather than inwardly digested (ask James Murdoch). This may explain why some tart up the appearance of their missives though I’m inclined to categorise those who do as in some way inadequate.

    • Lord Norton says:

      ladytizzy: As you may have seen, there is now some move to stop using e-mail. It may be some time before we cease to use it, but it is certainly not used, or read, in an efficient way. In some ways it is treated as more akin to the telephone, which people tend to pick up when it rings (rather than leave it on answerphone), rather than used like letters.

  5. Chris K says:

    Just had a facebook status update from ‘We say NO to an elected House of Lords’ where they’ve linked to your recent answered Written Question.

    72 people are working on the Constitution Group. Apart from discussing Lords reform, do these people do anything else to earn their keep?

  6. tory boy says:

    A lot of upset Peers in the HoL yesterday after Question Time, with regard to the new security arrangments in place in Peers Car Park. Lord Barnett and Baroness Trumpington plus others were not best pleased!

    • Lord Norton says:

      tory boy: I fear I have failed to mention this in my latest post among the events of this week, but I think it fair to say that it is a topic of animated conversation! Some peers are notably exercised about the matter.

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