How not to write letters

This morning, a fat, creamy envelope plopped onto my doormat. Oh noes, I bethought me, it’s another thumbnail of Vince looking grave and determined, telling me how wonderful I am and asking me for more money.

I have been upgraded in the Lib Dem stationery lexicon to creamy ploppy envelope, you see, on account of a recent undertaking over the phone to sign up for an extra direct debit. Sadly, I remain a freeloader in that creamy ploppy category because the letter which consequently arrived thanking me in fulsome terms for my direct debit did not actually contain the direct debit form to which it happily alluded, and I have been trying to remember to do something about it ever since. Sometimes I wonder if we are quite ready for government after all.

But no, this creamy ploppy missive is from my MP, Chris Grayling, in response to my email of last week about the MPs’ expenses exemption from the Freedom of Information Act.

Now, let me say first of all that I am suitably impressed to receive a reply. It was, after all, not twenty-four hours after my email was sent that the whole issue was pulled off the table, at which point Grayling’s stance became of slightly more academic interest and I would have accepted silence on the point.

Let me add that I am also happy with the overall tone of the letter, in favour of openness, would have voted against it, taxpayer  must be able to access a full and transparent picture etc etc. And moreover, that he made a point I hadn’t entirely expressed to myself, that the legislation would have been retrospective, which is an abstract no-no in legislative terms.

Let me say all that, just to put the drubbing to follow into some kind of  context.

Grayling says the government made the U-turn after “real pressure was applied by David Cameron and the wider Conservative Party.”

Say what?

I followed that whole twenty-four hours  leading up to the government U-turn fairly closely on the blogs and the news, and rather received the impression that the Tories, unloveable versions of Flashman that they are, were hiding behind a tree wetting themselves until it became clear which way the wind was blowing (“Oh dash it! Georgina, fetch me my new spats!”) Bishop Hill, who as he says is far away from being our greatest fan, agrees. It was the Lib Dems who shouted, have been shouting since (on the laziest google search ever) March.

Cameron’s original plan was apparently to suggest abstention. As late as 20 January, two days before the vote, the Beeb, in reporting on the surge of protest courtesy of MySociety, could still state that:

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg says he will recommend his MPs vote against the exemption.

But so far neither the Parliamentary Labour Party nor the Conservative Party have stated whether they will support or oppose the FOI exemption.

Now, as to this alleged Tory-Labour pact blarney. I watched the news that evening and watched Harriet Harman assert hand on heart that there had been an agreement with the Tories to support the Order, and then watched Alan Duncan assert hand on heart that there hadn’t been. One or both of them must have been at least half-lying, I honestly have no particular preconception as to which. But it’s nonetheless germane to point out that there are still whispers about certain Tories being discomposed by the late change of stance.

At the very least, there are question marks over the Conservative party’s behaviour on this issue, whether the charge is duplicity or simple dithering cowardice. For Chris Grayling to imply that the Tories were somehow leading the charge against the government’s attempt to curb freedom of information is repellantly deceitful. The announcement of a whipped Tory no vote could have turfed this off the table at any time, but Cameron only acquiesed to popular campaign pressure at the last minute to make that decision.

It’s ghastly not just because it’s deceitful, but because it’s apparently based on the assumption that I won’t have been interested enough to watch what was going on. It makes you wonder what else they get away with telling people who aren’t obsessively plugged in to politics, and who don’t have immediately obvious ways of checking what they’re told and expressing it publicly.

As the saying goes, never bullshit a bullshitter. Especially one with a blog.


  1. Well Alix, it’s still a damn sight better than the wilful misinterpretation I got from my MP (Labour, and very on-message). n.b. that was before the Brown U-turn…

    Misses the point which is that MP’s should of course be allowed to claim legit expenses, but
    a) they muct be open about them, and in detail if requires,
    b) they shouldn’t take the piss with those expenses…
    After all those are the rules that we mere mortlas must abide by.

  2. Your letter sounds remarkably similar to the one I received from Nadine Dorries including the piece about the retrospective legislation.

    Not a chance there was a cut n paste email circulating by any chance?

  3. Ha, wouldn’t surprise me. Which is nothing unusual, I suppose, but it possibly lends weight to the idea that they were pretty firmly whipped in conjunction with a concerted PR exercise, and that can only imply that they didn’t go willingly.

  4. Interesting set of responses… I have to say that mine was a much more positive one. Emailed my MP on Tuesday – letter arrived on Saturday morning. Full of thanks for taking the trouble to write, and comments that it was the grassroots campaign that really made a difference and showed the strength of feeling. To be fair, also a printed copy of Jo Swinson’s EDM with 11 names attached, and my MP being one of them. The MP in question – Kate Hoey.

  5. To be fair, nothing bad said about any MP about either party applies to Kate Hoey – she might be a bit batty at times, but she’s got guts and is a fantastic constituency MP.

  6. And my god that Clelland letter is awful – do you think he even wants you to vote for him? If so, he’s not trying very hard!

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