- EMAIL GOES TO THE BALLOT
Few MPs have realised the potential of email and the Internet or taken the initiative to represent their parties and deal with queries from the public.
Of the 650 MPs in the House Of Commons, only 40 have email addresses publicised on their party Web sites - the Conservatives have 26, Labour eight and the Liberal Democrats six. Most MPs have email but they tend to keep it within the confines of the House under the Parliamentary Data Video Network (PDVN), an email system they are trained to use within the House which allows communication between all MPs.
The Liberal Democrats use a similar conferencing system through their service provider, CIX. This provides a link between all the party members, although public access is limited to information on wider topics such as environmental issues and organisations such as the Liberal Gay Pressure Group.
Paddy Ashdown, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has been using CIX for 10 years and is the driving force behind bringing the Liberals up to date in the technical world. He has his own email address promoted on his own Web page, as do Anne Campbell (Labour, Cambridge), David Shaw (Conservative, Dover) and Graham Allen (Labour, Nottingham North).
Twenty per cent of Anne Campbell's correspondence is handled via email.
She receives 12 to 14 messages a day and finds email faster and less formal than letter writing. David Shaw receives up to 500 emails a year. He has been online since 1994 and says email has been 'enormously useful over the years'.
Shaw claims to have been the first MP to join the Net, to which he ascribes knowledge and education. He formatted his own Web page (www.conservative-party.org.uk/mp_s/shaw_d/), creating background photographs of the white cliffs of Dover which he plans to update with moving ferries. Anne Campbell includes FAQs (frequently asked questions) on site, which in theory should reduce repetitive queries but is often not the case. In addition, Anne says she 'often browses the Net for after-dinner jokes'.
The odd mail bomb aside, the benefits of the Internet far outweigh the problems. Allen says: 'We are servants to technology and unless we revolutionise politics there will be less and less political communication.' Allen agrees: 'Real power is technical power,' he says.
But the attack on the Labour Party site last December, when a hacker broke in and rearranged the manifesto, did little to install confidence in MPs, who remain a sceptical bunch. The House is in need of a digital facelift.
ALL RIGHT GOV - GOVERNMENT DEPARTMENTS GO ONLINE
All shades of political parties now have sites and the government is fast joining the party with a range of internal department sites including:
Government Information Service
Houses of Parliament Central Government Departments list Cabinet Office
Civil Service College
Central Office of Information
HM Treasury Foreign Office
Department of Trade and Industry
The Scottish Office Northern Ireland Government Server
Northern Ireland Civil Service
The British Council
Information on HRH The Prince of Wales
from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Full list at www.keele.ac.uk/depts/po/table/brit/brit.htm.
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