The difficult correspondence

44101I have commented on the number of letters received in the Palace of Westminster, but I have not discussed the nature of some of the correspondence we receive.  There is a problem not only in coping with the sheer volume, but also at times in knowing how to deal with the content.  Some letters are straightforward, commenting on policies or providing briefings on Bills.  However, letters from some individuals can be time-consuming and perplexing, and at times harrowing.

The problem is particularly acute for MPs.  They receive more letters than do peers and if the letters are from constituents they cannot avoid dealing with them.  Some correspondents are prone to write frequently, absorbing a disproportionate amount of time.  Some people who write are simply irritating, usually thinking they are the only ones who are right.  Some write on what are essentially trivial matters (that is, trivial in context – some matters that to us may appear minor may weigh heavily on some individuals) or cover issues that should be pursued with other agencies.  Some, however, are difficult to deal with because the writers are not necessarily rational.   The giveaway that there are problems is the presentation: there is the excessive use of capitals and of different coloured ink.  Another giveaway is who is copied in to the correspondence: it is usually luminaries such as the PM, UN Secretary-General, the Lord Chancellor, the Queen – the list can be a long one.

Some of the correspondence is fairly harmless and some in any event cannot be replied to as there is no return address – this in my experience tends to apply to religious tracts.  Sometimes one is sent no more than a photocopy of a newspaper article, on occasion annotated, but without any idea of what the sender expects the recipient do about it.  However, the real problem arises when someone gives their name and address and want you to take action.  Some letters start off sounding reasonable, but then become lengthy discourses on the fact that the government and other public agencies are using thought transference to control them or every public agency is engaged in a giant conspiracy to defraud them.  Some writers are eccentric, but others clearly have mental health issues.

What, then, to do about them?  In many cases, there is no need to respond as one has been copied in and is not the principal recipient.  (There is also a danger if one does respond this will trigger even more correspondence.)  Should one respond to those who write direct?   There is a particular problem, as I say, for MPs where the writers are constituents.  But what should other parliamentarians do?   Should they ignore the letters, simply acknowledge receipt, or send substantive responses?  My general rule is to steer clear, but I do wrestle with the issue.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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4 Responses to The difficult correspondence

  1. Mark Shephard says:

    It would be interesting to know if the volume of hostile post has increased post-expenses debacle

  2. Lord Norton,
    The Obama administration developed an online petition system. They promised a formal White House reply to those requests that received a certain required number of electronic signatures. Among the relatively few to receive the number required were a petition to exile and extradite television journalist Piers Morgan and more ambitiously to build a Death Star as is owned by the Imperial forces on the Star Wars film franchise (now there is a bigger weapon in the new movie — no word of a request yet). Unfortunately our country is unable to satisfy all these fascinating needs. Perhaps a formal system for transferring them to Westminster for a final review when they are rejected could be worked out. I would imagine the extradition thing is a formal impossibility but some sort of coerced invitation to Mr. Morgan would be a possible substitute.

    I think the Obama administration calculated the cost of the Death Star in the quintillions of dollars and with no assurance of success. However the British populace have a more sustained history of sacrifice for martial demands and the figure should still be lower in pounds. It’s a thought anyway…

    Best of luck with the mails…

  3. tizres says:

    Ink, you say? Won’t be too long before you’ll wonder why you deserve letters in crayon, with various adornments, normally hearts, substituting for tittles.

  4. maude elwes says:

    @ LN:

    I feel as the first poster on this thread. How much additional and hostile correspondence have you received since the exposure of expenses fraud, sexual deviance and the selling of our people as voters down the river to the EU and those damn yanks, has arrived since these vices have been openly exposed by Parliament in the media.

    Here we see a ‘Daily Politics’ show that reveals just how duplicitous our politicians, and certainly Lords, who go along with any and all betrayals of our tax payer money, along with their deeply held principles, in votes.

    In this hour long programme we see the BBC, who receives a large annual stipend from the EU in order to keep them with the stay, stay, stay brigade, at the same time as giving a very chummy interview with expense fraudsters, who like to keep their horses warm on public funds, but, at the same time same interviewer finds a great deal of animosity toward a person who demonstrates his reasons for wanting us out of that oaying EU. Add to that, the government arrogance and frankly dictatorial stance on who and where we should be buying our goods. In fact, wanting to bring some kind of law into how and why we should be unable to boycott products from countries we, the purchaser, do not find an attractive partner in trade. I wonder if this is the first run up or connection to TTIP and the ‘sue them rule’ should we reject contaminated goods or food connected to that little ruse. At the same time, trying to pursuade us to boycott goods from Russia, as they are riddled with duplicity.

    What a full and contemptuous show of how government really despises those they rule over. If the letters are not rolling in after this little expose then nothing will stir the hearts of the British after such a sell out.

    And, as a footnote, the conversations with most people I have had over the last few days has been, how quickly they can manage to accumulate enough cash to enable them to escape this immigrant infested workhouse to parts that attract a far better quality of life. One where family connections, including long lunches and dinners with their offspring, mean more than time spent trying to feed the rest of the planet, whilst their own kids starve of attention or line up at food banks.

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