• Keeping in Touch

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    30 January 2015

    Last week I held a surgery in Exminster, one of almost 250 I have hosted since the election - an average of one a week. These are key opportunities to help constituents and along with local meetings and door to door canvassing provide me with critical face-to-face feedback. Listening to your electorate is vital for today’s politicians and comes at a time when more and more is expected of us. Before email communication took off, of course, MPs might receive a small number of handwritten letters a week. Nowadays there’s a constant rush of electronic traffic – I get around 3,000 pieces of correspondence a month and I am grateful to my team who do such a great job ensuring that I keep on top of it. These greater demands include 24 hour media, tweeting and blogging. Today, MPs need to be engaged 24/7 – it never stops. Some emails have to be dealt with especially quickly including those of the ‘I dare you to forward this’ type that invariably contain falsehoods aimed at undermining confidence in the so called ‘political class’. I received one recently that included a clearly manipulated photograph apparently showing Tony Blair in a military plane reading with his feet up on a Union Jack draped coffin. In the email age such sick falsehoods can be half way around the world before the truth has even got its trousers on, so you need to be constantly engaged to deal with it. On balance, of course, these greater opportunities to keep in touch with MPs are to be thoroughly welcomed and if you want to reflect on how far we have travelled as an evolving democracy consider how different it was a century or so ago when the extent of an MP’s engagement with a seat might have been an annual visit to a rotten borough. Prior to the 1832 Reform Act that swept them away, rotten boroughs comprised very small numbers of electors. Classic examples included Dunwich a coastal village in Suffolk that by 1832 had largely collapsed into the sea but its 32 voters returned two MPs. Old Sarum had, in medieval times, been a thriving town but by 1832 it had just seven voters living in three houses returning two MPs. Gatton in Surrey also had only seven voters and yes you guessed it – it returned 2 MPs too! In my own patch, Okehampton was a rotten borough returning Pitt the Elder in the 18th Century. The fact that until 1872 ballots were by show of hands served only to enhance the power of those who controlled this dreadful system. My electorate is over 70,000 and last week I continued to keep myself busy - listening and helping out. In addition to a couple of surgeries I visited the renovated sports centre in Chudleigh and the Gilead Foundation in Jacobstowe that provides support for those suffering with alcohol and drug addiction. If you want to get in touch please email me at