Rhetorical question of the year: Does Richard Ottaway listen?

CROYDON COMMENTARY: It might just be the worst nightmare of constituent-lite MP “Sir” Tricky Dicky Ottaway – an online petition with his own name on it. JON BIGGER on the good work of 38 Degrees and the bitter irony that Croydon South’s MP will this week be supporting the Government’s rushed digital security bill

Imagine the thrill of receiving an email entitled “Does Richard Ottaway Listen?”

A proper B'stard: signalling contempt for the people of Croydon

A proper B’stard: signalling contempt for the people of Croydon

There are just too many jokes to be had with a title like that.

At first, I thought it was a rhetorical question, but it turned out to be an email from 38 Degrees, the online petition group. People may recall that earlier in the year, “Sir” Tricky Dicky labelled 38 Degrees as “notorious” for having the audacity to encourage constituents to contact him about issues affecting them. When people use the online site to contact him, it means he gets multiple emails about the same issue. Rather than thinking that this might mean that lots of different people might care about these issues, Ottaway considers it to be an administrative nightmare.

Ottaway much prefers the cosy option of only inviting people who he has personally vetted to his constituency office. I found out what happens if you attend in a group to which he has taken a disliking.

Now, 38 Degrees has been asked to provide information to a government commission looking at “digital democracy”, specifically how MPs respond to electronic requests from constituents. They’ve set up a questionnaire so that as many people can feed into the consultation as possible. If you’ve had online experience of Ottaway (or any other MP for that matter) you can access the questionnaire here: https://secure.38degrees.org.uk/page/s/how-well-does-your-mp-communicate-with-you-#petition.

It might be useful for as many people who have contacted Ottaway online to detail how they have been treated by the MP for Croydon South. Does Richard Ottaway listen? It’s not rhetorical, it needs answering so that people know exactly how hard it is to influence politics, particularly in a constituency with a largely absent MP who opts to represent a narrow base of interests.

Back in the late 1990s, I studied for an MA in Democratic Studies. When it came to the brand new internet, many of us thought that the possibilities for democracy are as far-reaching as our imaginations. Full of promise, digital democracy conjures up images of citizen involvement in decision-making.

Yet our politicians seem more remote from us than ever before. Power seems increasingly difficult to influence. It’s ironic that far from the internet providing digital democracy, MPs this week will be voting on emergency legislation to enable the security services to continue collecting data from us all about our online activity. Politicians are using the internet against us when it should be a wonderful liberating tool giving us a voice.

We could start by insisting on a culture where our representatives don’t just respond correctly when we contact them; they should seek our views and not kow-tow so heavily to their party machines.

Jon Bigger: in favour of a digital democracy

Jon Bigger: in favour of a digital democracy

I’m standing in next year’s General Election in Croydon South, despite not believing in representative democracy. I believe in direct democracy with recallable delegates rather than representatives. I want us all to represent ourselves and work together to decide the important issues in our lives. This is the polar opposite of the society Ottaway influences.

Power and decision-making are for the likes of him, not us. Digital democracy gives us an opportunity to take some power back. How ironic that it is used by the likes of Ottaway to close down debate and keep ordinary citizens away from the decision-making process.

If you’ve contacted your MP online and found it like banging your head against a brick wall, then get your views heard.

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4 Responses to Rhetorical question of the year: Does Richard Ottaway listen?

  1. davidcallam says:

    I also received the email from the excellent 38 Degrees, and having had a digital dialogue with the deaf – as in an email exchange with Ottaway – I have responded appropriately.

    Ottaway represents all that is bad in Westminster politics: aloof, oblivious of constituency matters and sitting on a large enough and stupid enough loyal Tory majority for it not to matter. Caught with his hand in the parliamentary expenses till, he was re-elected in 2010 with a larger majority than previously.

    That tells you all you need to know about the polling fodder in the constituency who will vote for anything wearing a blue rosette and why his successor will be able to treat Croydon South with the same disrespect for many years to come.

  2. tomvoute says:

    Richard Ottaway has always responded properly and courteously to my critical letters – sent by me in the old-fashioned way, on paper, in an envelope and with a stamp on it.

    But once when I attempted to contact him in 21st century style by email, I got nowhere, with incoherent “holding responses” from assisants. So I will continue to communicate in the old-fashioned and labour-intensive way with my MP.

    But I am 65 and I can understand the frustration of the generation for whom this is a totally outdated and impractical way to communicate. Politicians who don’t realise this are living in the past and are disconnected from the people.

    On the wider points raised: “safe seats” are an abomination and undemocratic. Our electoral system is not fit for purpose. It creates a Parliament full of obedient lobby fodder who are almost always elected by a minority of their constituencies’ electors. Once in Parliament, they vote as they are told, on legislation which they most of the time haven’t scrutinised properly and don’t understand, and they are rewarded for their dumb obedience with a career progression of increasingly safe seats and platinum plated pensions at the end.

    Our political system seems to have been designed by Gilbert & Sullivan and is now in crisis, in really deep crisis, because by and large the younger people don’t vote any more, and you can’t blame them. None of it connects to their world. I believe in parliamentary democracy as a principle but in this country it is a dysfunctional farce.

    Try to put yourself in the frame of mind of an 18-year-old: “You walk down once every 5 years to some community hall, go in to a little partitioned space and are asked to make a little mark with a PENCIL on a strip of PAPER which has a few names and political parties (what are they?) on it. What’s that all about?”

    Can you seriously expect people who have grown up with social media to believe that this quaint procedure is a credible way to participate in decisions on how the country should be run?

  3. jcb76 says:

    Reblogged this on Trade Onion by Jon Bigger.

  4. Robin Taylor says:

    Richard Ottaway is basically a decent bloke and I wish him well in his retirement.

    He was one of the old-style Young Tories who had no truck with racism (unlike the lunatics that hijacked the Federation of Conservative Students in 1980 and started coming out with slogans like “Hang Mandela”).

    In 1996 he supported a proposed Islamic Centre designated for a public building in Addiscombe, I wrote to him to inform him that I had received hate mail from the far-right “Surrey Border Front” after having had a letter published in the local paper in support of the planning application.

    Though not a constituent of his (I am a resident of Southall) he kindly responded by sending me a copy of a letter he had sent to the “Commission for Racial Equality” drawing their attention to an inflammatory leaflet which the SBF had distributed to Addiscombe households about the projected Islamic centre. Mr Ottaway is not of my party but when it comes to the fight against racism I respect him for his principles and for the contribution he has made in that field.

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