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The MPs and the form letter

Tony Newbery has been looking at the responses given to a couple of people who contacted their MPs about 28gate and notices a certain similarity (or identity) in what MPs had to say. He is pondering what this says about the process of contacting one's parliamentary representative:

The availability of a form letter reply suggests that a considerable number of people contacted their MPs who, presumably, then contacted the oh-so-helpful folk at the BBC.

This then raises the question of whether MPs are simply contacting the BBC, who fob them off with a form letter, which the MPs then rewrite in their own words and pass on to the constituents. If so, it makes something of a nonsense of the whole process.

Tony is looking for other people who might have written to their MPs about 28gate. See the full post here.

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Reader Comments (24)

They probably used Reality Drop for their response. The BBC will do the same soon

Mar 12, 2013 at 9:10 AM | Registered Commentermangochutney

Link to Tony Newbery's blog is:

Mar 12, 2013 at 9:13 AM | Registered CommenterQ

I didn't write to mine on this subject specifically. When I do write a letter that warrants a reply, I eventually get a covering note attaching a departmental response (often containing the same paragraphs if on similar subjects). This is just post-boxing. I rarely get a response that tells me anything about my MP's position (though I can guess). In some cases, I copy stuff to a nearby MP who's views are nearer to mine and I always receive a prompt, personal response, so they're not always the same.

Mar 12, 2013 at 9:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan_UK

There might be other ways to interpret this.
Is there a pattern as to which MPs send it out. Do the MPs share administrative staff, or sit on a particular comittee etc ?

Mar 12, 2013 at 9:28 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

typo: committee

Mar 12, 2013 at 9:31 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

I recently wrote to my MP regarding the Engery Bill, and while his response was mostly what looks like a standard response regarding how the Energy Bill will save the world and attract £110 billion investment in the energy mix, he did specifically say that he will not support the ammendments by Tim Yeo, so there was at least a bit of thought put into the answer.

Mar 12, 2013 at 9:40 AM | Registered Commentersteve ta

In fact what seems to have happened in these two cases is far worse than MP’s customising text supplied by the BBC. They seem to have signed form letters written by the BBC as thought they are from the MP. No need to even read them, let alone customise them.

Mar 12, 2013 at 9:55 AM | Unregistered CommenterTonyN

See the interesting discussion of the genesis of form letters by Ruth Dixon at My Garden Pond: How will we meet the Climate Change Act emissions targets? MPs respond to their constituents.

Mar 12, 2013 at 10:14 AM | Registered CommenterJonathan Jones

My MP passed my letter onto Lord Patten whose reply did refer to my letter. Nevertheless it appeared mostly to be a parcel wrap of the standard BBC reply that others have received. I in turn pointed out uncovered issues in Lord Patten`s reply; my MP asked me if I wanted him to take them up. I replied he should not bother because BBC minds are closed. My MP is careful to keep his personal views to himself; preferring to rely on the advice of the government`s Chief Scientific Advisor. In short what we have is an Establsihment stitch up of the debate. This appears to be confirmed by the Graham Stringer MP`s letter to the Daily Telegraph that was reprinted by BH the other day.

Mar 12, 2013 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered Commenteroldtimer

steveta said "I recently wrote to my MP regarding the Engery Bill, and while his response was mostly what looks like a standard response regarding how the Energy Bill will save the world and attract £110 billion investment in the energy mix, he did specifically say that he will not support the ammendments by Tim Yeo, so there was at least a bit of thought put into the answer."

I did the same and would appear to have received a similar letter from Patrick Mercer OBE MP including the £110bn, and 65,000 new jobs although he didn't mention how he was going to vote. Would be interesting to compare letters. I've scanned mine and can send them to you or vice versa.

Mar 12, 2013 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered Commenterjohnbuk


I would be very grateful if you would leave a comment at my site so that I can contact you:

Mar 12, 2013 at 10:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterTonyN

Btw, Bishop, and slightly OT, there's a select committee at the moment 'interrogating' 'Energy Prices, Profits and Poverty'. Apart, from Peter Lilley, there's very little light being shed!

Mar 12, 2013 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterLewis Deane

johnbuk and all, are there any conventions regarding publishing correspondence from an MP? Is it considered OK to paste the entire letter on a blog site? Would an MP expect his/her response to a constituent to be public domain?

Mar 12, 2013 at 11:37 AM | Registered Commentersteve ta

"This then raises the question of whether MPs are simply contacting contracting the BBC."

Mar 12, 2013 at 12:06 PM | Registered CommenterGrantB

Just to give the link, if that's possible, further to my post:

It's boring but revelatory for what's not asked.

Mar 12, 2013 at 12:27 PM | Unregistered CommenterLewis Deane

Getting the BBC into a public confrontation - when they have effective control of the stage... ?

My feeling is that the present crew at the BBC will continue to manipulate, dissemble, omit pertinent information and obstruct until almost their last breath - convinced of their own "rightness" and their status as the givers of truths.

These are symptoms of the malaise which has infected British public institutions pretty much without exception.

The evidence is that MPs for the most part don't want to actually think for themselves or do any actual investigation or research however trivial - and if there's a potted crib answer available from an "interested party" / "authority" that is suitably convoluted/opaque then copy 'n paste is the order of the day. Most in my experience have no stomach for a fight.

Somewhere in all this - fantastical subjective emoting comes in to play - something the state broadcaster is clearly addicted to - and like a junkie they will do anything to keep the flow of the drug coming.

Looks like Guido Fawkes has caught out ex DG Mark Thomson on Saville knowledge and legend building...

That the BBC still apparently ploughs onward still busily omitting evidence and oozing devious slime on global warming, weird weather, windmills, biofuel, fracking and so on is increasingly showing it to be beyond reform - the rest of the MSM are presently mostly just playing catch-up.

The BBC are junkies - with all the self indulgent amorality and dishonesty that label confers.

Mar 12, 2013 at 12:52 PM | Registered Commentertomo

tomo, I think you wrote fracking without the required adjective 'controversial' there, No BBC job for you.

Mar 12, 2013 at 1:14 PM | Unregistered Commenterrhoda

While I know there are some zealots among MPs, the BBC and anywhere else you care to mention, I am sure the numbers are dwarfed by the vast majority who are simply ignorant. This is no surprise as most people are ignorant about most things. There are huge areas of knowledge, including areas of politics which some would regard as being as vital as AGW about which I really know **** all beyond the superficial and if we are honest that's true for all of us.
The trouble is, for the ignorant it's easier to unthinkingly adopt "common knowledge" positions. It takes nerve to keep admitting "I don't know" especially if you are supposed to be an all-knowing politician or journalist.
Of course if you have just unthinkingly adopted the "common knowledge" default you are incapable of writing a detailed reply to a knowledgeable question. You have two options. Either you can spend the considerable time and effort to research the subject in enough depth to prevent you making a complete fool of yourself (and are you going to do this for every subject?) or you can inquire of someone you consider to be an expert. If they provide a ready-written answer you are going to jump at it.
Not saying it's admirable, but course number two is what most people are going to take in most cases.

It's maybe pointless to send most MPs questions which can be answered in this way. What needs to be done is to find ways of subtly suggesting to the unthinkingly ignorant MP that they have been fooled. Tougher to do, but the odd one politician who is spurred to do their own research and becomes angry about being fooled is more useful than hundreds of MPs who are copying and pasting stock answers without thinking twice, or even once.

Mar 12, 2013 at 2:20 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

rhoda - re-eduction cbbc camp for me. Overt "on message" word association/juxtaposition games are everywhere in the BBC's output sometimes on a level that children would boo off a pantomime stage.

Driving this morning I caught the second half of Gus O'Donnel's self serving Radio 4 series on "The Civil Service" - what struck me was that several times he used the pervasive "Aquarela do Brasil" theme music from Terry Gilliam's Brazil - where the Ministry of Information and its antics form a central part of the plot.

I think I suffered from a mild attack of cognitive dissonance... I personally think the ponderous, portentous drumming that precedes the BBC's news slots should be changed to the Brasil theme - sorted :-)

Terry Gilliam had a profound seer moment back in '85.

yeah.. human nature being what it is .... IMNSHO there's nothing wrong with volunteering ignorance - and, if something is important enough - as you say - a sane person will attempt to find out for themselves. What we're still seeing though is the attempted systematic vilification of folk who have the temerity to offer up well founded evidence that contradicts what the likes of the BBC managers are minded to promote as "common knowledge". MPs need to start getting much feistier than the bovine lobby fodder we see presently. Our public servants have a clear duty at all levels to objectivity that they are very rarely performing.

Mar 12, 2013 at 2:41 PM | Registered Commentertomo

While browsing during my break at work I came across a post on this thread that described the community here as 'Anti Science Cranks'. This post has now been deleted, I suspect that I know why, but it does bring to mind an important point. Douglas Adams would have been 61 yesterday and he was recognised by the Google Doodle and was mentioned on one or two blogs where I came upon this quote:

“Now, the invention of the scientific method is, I’m sure we’ll all agree, the most powerful intellectual idea, the most powerful framework for thinking and investigating and understanding and challenging the world around us that there is, and it rests on the premise that any idea is there to be attacked. If it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes..."

This being a fundamental aspect of the scientific method means that the idea of catastrophic man made climate change is there to be attacked. If it withstands the attack then it lives to fight another day and if it doesn’t withstand the attack then down it goes. There is nothing anti science about this, it is how science is supposed to be done, or are we supposed to make some kind of exception for CAGW?

Mar 12, 2013 at 6:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterStonyground

Years ago I worked in a government department (in Australia) where for my sins one of my tasks was drafting responses to members of the public who wrote to the Minister, or MPs who forwarded constituent enquiries in his portfolio.

There was a very large statutory organisation in the portfolio which generated a lot of complaints from the public. The procedure was to send the details of the complaint to this organisation for a response. When the response came, the Minister's reply would begin: "Thank you for your letter of X date concerning (whatever it was) in relation to organisation Y. Your complaint was forwarded to Y for a response. Y has advised me in the following terms."

We would then quote exactly the words provided by the statutory body.

This achieved a number of objectives. It made it clear who 'owned' the words. It distanced the Minister (who had no direct control) from any stuff-ups. And it put Y on wood to provide accurate and honest information, because otherwise they would be misleading not only the public, but also the Minister.

Politicians who expose themselves by pretending that words (or paraphrases) they have not written are theirs are pretty dumb, IMO.

Mar 12, 2013 at 9:07 PM | Registered Commenterjohanna


"...... are we supposed to make some kind of exception for CAGW?"

Clearly so, because unless we take action as we are told, immediately, and don't question it, terrible consequences are inevitable.

You can't separate out the political, and I'd say the religious, aspects of this from the scientific aspects and that's why it isn't continued as a normal scientific controversy.

For instance, the attempts to close off discussion and induce obedience. The language used on both sides, but especially that of the warmists, isn't that of a normal controversy. It's much more like dealing with religious heretics or political dissidents.

e.g. Do you believe in Global Warming? Contrast it with "Do you believe in Superstring theory?". The question wouldn't be asked in that way, it would be something on the lines of whether you thought it was valid, or worth pursuing, or could be validated.

Mar 12, 2013 at 10:10 PM | Unregistered Commentercosmic

I wrote some years ago to my local Westminster idiot to give the lie to the climate scam in general and the Goracle propaganda exercise in particular. I was of course fobbed off with the usual insulting infantile AGW tripe.

I've come to the conclusion it might be better to try writing to the local press to point out the financial consequences to come for the town's taxpayers from the wind farm-rip off in their electricity bills as a result of a succession of policies designed specifically to make energy more, not less expensive in the future. And the third world power outages to come as well. That may be the only way politicians can be made to engage in any kind of remotely meaningful discussion of what is nothing less than an impending disaster and one that it seems has largely been engineered on purpose.

Naturally that would also depend on the degree to which local newspapers see themselves as an arm of the establishment with a mission to clamp down on dissent.

Mar 13, 2013 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterMartin Reed

Obviously it is quite stupid to think MPs should read every message a constituent sends, and then write a personal reply. If that was the case MPs would never be able to do anything at all, ever. MPs, generally, prioritise real constituent problems that they can actually do something about - such as constituents suffering from domestic abuse or having their benefits incorrectly taken way.

Campaigns - which are themselves often pre-written uniform letters - are problematic in that they take time away from more pressing issues, such as specific cases of child abuse. I think we all have to keep this in mind.

Both the major parties, and I assume the lib-dems, have clunky systems where MP's caseworkers can provide fixed responses, often party-responses, to a range of issues (unless an MP, for some reason, directs his caseworkers to do otherwise, such as if a pet issue is addressed). All letters are given the go-ahead by the MP, but with so many different issues per month, often about issues the MP has no knowledge about, it is unlikely most letters are given anything more than a quick glance.

It could only ever be like this, anything more is wishful thinking.

HOWEVER, with issues such as this, in my opinion anyway (and no single MP operates in the same, exact, manner as the next), it is unusual to be given a reply in this manner. If the original constituent letters do not strike the MP as note-worthy (or, indeed, placed on their 'to-do-list' for future personal attention) then the standard practice, from what I know anyway, would be to copy-print-send the document the BBC sent to the MP, back to the constituent. That is why this message is somewhat odd.

(please note, sometimes, the MP may actually hand write additional information to add to the letter, which her caseworker will then add to the form letter reply, it really does depend on the MP and their areas of interest).

PLEASE keep in mind many MPs are working on little money, made worse by the expenses-scandal in the UK. The budget for hiring staff is small, caseworkers often receive poor salaries (fuelled by loyalty) and there are only so many hours each day to respond to constituents. Obviously this varies from MP to MP, but please spare some thought to the practicality of 5 underpaid caseworkers trying to deal with a 100 or so e-mail's or letters per day.

To repeat, it IS strange that the original BBC letter was not photo-copied and sent to the constituents. As far as I am aware that would be the standard response. Other than that, the best hope is that the MP will have read the original letter and it would have spurred her/his interest - which can happen.

MEETING the MP face to face is far more beneficial.

Mar 13, 2013 at 5:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterPoosh

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