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Can Weblogs Make a Politician Keep a Promise?

Tony Blair's Email Phase 2 - Political Wrangling

One of a series of Can Weblogs...? experiments from 2002-2004.

Reactions to Phase 1:

"It was very interesting to read about someone who had a similar experience to me... but the fact that your experience may influence Number 10's policy on email is especially fantastic."
Andrew, who receives email intended for Prince William

"Oh, Tim. I'm sure you have better things to do with your time!"
My Mum

WARNING - this is not Tony Blair's real email address

Last week, a piece on our campaign in London's Metro elicited the following response from Number 10:
'We have plans to introduce an e-mail address for the Prime Minister in the near future, but we have set no date set yet.'

Indeed, while the old version of the feedback page for the PM only features a link for contact with the webmaster, the new version confidently states that:
'At present there isn't an e-mail address for the Prime Minister, although we are working on plans to introduce one.'

The thing is, a formal promise for the development of this simple facility was made over a year ago and I was left wondering exactly how near the 'near future' was.

In fact, I was so frustrated by the ongoing delay that I stepped up to the plate and came up with a viable service solution. This solution - backed by a provider that already handles a slew of government work and can provide comprehensive email virus scanning to boot - could have been in place within a week.

I made this offer via the office of the e-envoy. The folks there were most helpful, and got back to me with Number 10's response within 24 hours. The offer was 'appreciated' but - nevertheless - declined. Further, they sent back word that:
'No. 10 is looking into all methods of communication with the Prime Minister, including email, but the preferred mechanism is to write to him.'

You'll pardon me for being churlish, but my preferred mechanism is email, and I don't think I'm alone on the matter. Less trees die, for a start. From Number 10's point of view, it's also easier to forward single or multiple copies of an email to relevant departments should their feedback be required. Letters on paper have to be filtered, forwarded and/or filed by hand. With email (at least, with the system I had in mind) messages could be immediately filtered according to topic upon arrival, before being subjected to a human filter and forwarded when and where necessary. Filing and back-ups would happen as a matter of course.

Am I really asking for anything so unusual?

Well, let's see how easy it is for citizens in other English-speaking countries to contact their democratically elected leader:

- Australians can contact Prime Minister John Howard by email. (Well, you can try, but he never replies, apparently. Find out more here.)
- Canadians can contact Prime Minister Jean Chretien by email.
- Live in New Zealand? Well, you can contact Prime Minister Helen Clark by email too.
- Hell, if you live in the United States, you can not only send email to President George Bush, but also his wife Laura, the Vice-President Dick Cheney, and his lovely wife, Lynne.

(I could list a bunch of others, particularly a bunch of nations in the EU, but I think I've pretty much made my point, don't you?)

In the United Kingdom, you can send an email to Iain Duncan Smith, the Leader of the Conservative Party and even send email to the Liberal Democrats if you really feel you must, but you cannot send email to the Prime Minister. Considering what they already have to deal with, I don't really want to cause yet another problem for the folks at Number 10 (in fact, it should be pretty clear that I've even offered to be part of the solution). The problem is that this facility is so necessary and so very, very overdue that I'm really left with no choice at this stage but to get in touch with these opposing parties and bring this matter to their attention.

I'll get back to you soon and let you know what they make of the whole thing.

In the meantime, you may wish to send a link to this page to your local news organisation or link to it from your own site/weblog by cutting and pasting the following into your HTML:

Oh, and just for the record, deletion of the email hostages begins afresh from today. If you need to know more, you may wish to refer to Phase 1 of this campaign.

UPDATE 1 (21st November) - The Tories were of very little help. However, Sue Doughty (a Lib-Dem and my local MP), came through for us and tabled a parliamentary question on the matter:

Monday 4th November 2002
Sue Doughty: 'To ask the Prime Minister, what email address members of the public may use to contact him.'

Wednesday 6th November 2002
The Prime Minister: 'At present there is no e-mail address by which members of the public can contact me. However an address will be made available in the new year.'

Of course, 'in the new year' could mean any time between January or December 2003, but at least now we've got something solid to hold him to. Now all we have to do is step up the pressure.

Further updates can be found at Tony Blair's Email - Phase 3.

Back to 'Can Weblogs...?' for further results and updates.

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