A week ago I joined a couple of Facebook groups and invited all my UK friends to join me. I used www.writetothem.com to send a email to my MP and I blogged about it here. 8,000 people have since joined the main group and yesterday the plans to change the law were shelved. I was part of a fantastic campaign that played a part in stopping MPs changing the law to conceal the details of their expenses.
It is a pivotal moment in eDemocracy terms. The campaign could not have been organised so quickly without the tools provided by Facebook, TheyWorkforYou.com, Twitter and blogs. Two years ago with only a week's notice there would not have been time to make MPs aware of the strength of feeling about the issue.
Not everyone is happy. Some feel that it is an example of MPs being bullied into a decision by unaccountable pressure groups. That view is not helped by MySociety slightly triumphalistic "Blimey. It looks like the Internets won" blog post.
I think Parliament won. By shelving the changes to the law Parliament has avoided eroding the public trust in it and in MPs as a group. Yesterday was a good day for Parliament. It prevented today from being a very bad day indeed.
Paulie · 26th January 2009 at 10:46 am
I’m still not convinced Shane. I’m going to nick Andreas’ comment from my site because I think it’s more concise than my own rant:
“…it’s generally agreed by most serious observers that the MP’s are not particularly corrupt. The most recent expenses scandals have been related to staff and had little relation to the publication of receipts.
MP’s are scrutinized by the opposition and the press both of whom are willing to distort the facts in order to get a story. In fact, the press might choose to invent a campaign simply because it’s a slow news day.
What we have in essence is an easy way to manufacture a scandal disguised as an anti corruption measure that will have so minor an effect it’s barely worth it. I’m sorry but if you believe in any way it will inspire confidence in MP’s you must be living on mars, statistics have generally proved a puny weapon in the face of Daily Mail outrage.”
Shane McCracken · 26th January 2009 at 11:03 am
I suspect we’ll continue to disagree 😉
However I do agree that MP’s (and the Lords) are not particularly corrupt, but I disagree with Andreas’ analysis. The potential for a scandal story is more about the cover-up than about the original “crime”. If there is no cover up then there is no story. Go have a look at Ben Wallace’s expenses. They are too dull for words. The papers can only run an expose if they are exposing something you or I don’t know. If everything is in the open then there is no expose. Dull but true.
I’m all for starting the process from today as opposed to digging around for receipts that no-one expected to see the light of day. But the more that MPs resist the demand for transparency the more that we and the Mail will think they have to hide and that is what creates a story.
Paulie · 26th January 2009 at 7:44 pm
Disagreeing is fairly harmless Shane, innit?
Now, I need proof that you aren’t beating your wife? I suspect that you probably aren’t, but really, I think a good long insight into your domestic arrangements should clear this up conclusively don’t you think?
That’s the problem – who decides what we need to see and what we don’t? I’ve really not had what I think is my most important argument acknowledged by anyone yet – it’s quite weird. Elected politicians have rivals. Those rivals compete to exercise power. They will continually try and weaken THEIR rivals and assert themselves further. Their rivals are MPs – and really, MPs are the ones who are formally on our side, despite their imperfections. They are the least-worst allies that we have in this never-ending struggle to coerce.
Why is no-one crowdsourcing transparency on unelected pressure groups or journalists?
Paulie · 26th January 2009 at 11:43 pm
PS – can I apologise for the previous comment. It was a bit shrill and terribly constructed.
Shane McCracken · 27th January 2009 at 10:05 am
If I may summarise for you…
Why not apply the same transparency to lobbyists and journalists? I agree, why not? It will be more difficult but knowing who funds what campaign is important just as it is important we know who funds what political party and politicians.
But the lack of that transparency shouldn’t hold back MPs from publishing their expenses in as much detail as people are prepared to look. Until they do, papers and rivals will continually promote rumours that politicians “have their snouts in the trough”. Publishing expenses in detail will kill those rumours and that will be to the benefit of parliament.