Straw hits out at ‘Web activists’

Jack Straw took a swipe at the internet last week, complaining about TheyWorkForYou.com, a website that links the public to their MPs.

Straw, in his role as leader of the House of Commons, was complaining about the number of questions the Government receives from MPs and the public. Straw also sits on the Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee.

“We have a problem with researchers trying to prove a point, and with the TheyWorkForYou.com website, which seems to measure MPs’ work in quantitative rather than qualitative terms,” said Straw.

But despite the evident enthusiasm of some members of the public, Parliament has a tricky marketing problem in that the majority of voters are apathetic. While the Web could help, most MPs verge on the luddite, and political bloggers such as Guido Fawkes only unnerve them more.

“It can’t be much time before a blogger brings down a minister,” says Tom Steinberg, director of mySociety, which runs TheyWorkForYou.com.

But Parliament is trying to catch up. “I don’t think Parliament is ready for the age of participation media, but I am optimistic,” says Dominic Tinley, managing editor of the Parliament website, which will relaunch in October.

“We need different ways of engaging the public,” says Pete Clifton, head of BBC News Interactive, which is also testing new tools. But he warns: “If you ask people to contribute to a debate be prepared for the thousands who write in. The 50 whose comments go on the site will be pleased, the other 950 will be deeply fed-up.”

But MPs still need convincing of the role online has to play in politics. “Parliament has a long way to go. I am on the Modernisation committee and there are people on it who are there to make sure we don’t take modernisation too far,” says Dawn Butler, a Labour backbencher.

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