EDMs are now the day’s work

One of the most wasteful features of the modern life of an MP are the endless standard postcards and standard emails sent by well meaning constituents to get you to sign an EDM. On some EDMs you may receive dozens of exactly the same form of words, each one needing a reply. Constituents often do not realise how many of the same card you may be getting, and how futile the EDM game can be.

This has become an industry all of its own. Well paid lobbyists or charities design an EDM on their pet subject. They find a tame MP to table it for them. They then persuade as many people as possible to send exactly the same form of words to their own MPs, demanding they sign the lobbyist’s EDM. They imply to the constituents that if enough MPs sign all will be well, as if signing the EDM will resolve the problem or is in it itself an answer.

They never explain that there are thousands of EDMs in any Parliament. They are a kind of Parliamentary graffitti. They never explain that EDMs languish undebated, and are never voted on. Unless an MP sends the form of words to a Minister, no Minister need even read it , let alone respond.

A sensible MP takes the concerns of constituents seriously. That concern is is best expressed in the constituent’s own words, and best pursued in the MP’s own way. The EDM merry go round is all part of the spin world, where big money is raised to pay lobbyists salaries, who then play the EDM game to show they are busy.

If you want something changed you need to persaude the government to change it, as they control the business of the House and have the votes to decide the answers. MPs can help influence governments to do the right thing, but it takes more than an EDM to do it.

MPs and even Opposition parties do use EDMs from time to time – sometimes out of frustration that there isn’t a better way of raising the issue and getting some action, sometimes to congratulate the local football team.

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11 Comments

  1. IanVisits
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    This is why I like reading political blogs – I learn things.

    I had no idea that EDMs are another source of lobbyist fodder – I had presumed they were, as you say, just a bit of “Parliamentary graffitti”, albeit one with a bit more class than the usual street decorations.

    I enjoy reading them (most) days via the Parliament website as there is usually an amusing one in there which lightens the mood – but had I been asked, I would have presumed they were divorced from the usual lobbying mechanism that affects the rest of politics.

    It’s shame that they are just another tool for lobbyists, and I doubt I’ll be able to read them in quite the same way again.

  2. A. Sedgwick
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I am amazed that so many are so gullible, most of us just see MPs as lobby fodder for the Whips with a few “Honourable” exceptions. On the reasonable assumption that the Conservatives become the next Government, one and possibly the most urgent reform concerns the integrity of democracy and Parliament. New Labour has abused the will of the majority to the point of civil unrest and the contempt with which many hold this Government’s ministers and lackeys is not good for the future of the country. Private Members’ Bills should be allocated by size of petition not this farcical lottery when some dopey MP then dreams up an obscure cause and the Government does not allocate time anyway. The number of PMB should be increased, guaranteed time and a free vote. Some other changes – secret ballot for Speaker each Parliament, fixed term elections, fairly sized constituencies, PMs must be elected by country, reduction of MP numbers particularly in Scotland(what do non Government Scottish MPs do – if there are any) and of course in/out EU referendum.

  3. dizzy
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I have rather nice little contest going on on this subject John

    http://dizzythinks.net/2009/03/edm-signature-whores-200809.html

  4. Bill Quango mp
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    The Post Office card account one was well supported and generated a lot of media interest. It was an orchestrated campaign from a union, but it did have grass roots appeal. Do you remember when the Today program set up a competition to put ‘your message’ into parliament?
    Wasn’t the one chosen by the great and good, venerable, sage listeners of the squeaky liberal radio program something like..
    “The right to ‘Shoot all intruders in your own home'”

    They haven’t been so keen to repeat that exercise in democracy have they?

  5. Denis Cooper
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Occasionally, very occasionally, EDM’s are debated and voted on – according to this Factsheet:

    http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/p03.pdf

    the most famous example in recent times being an EDM tabled on March 22nd 1979 by one Margaret Thatcher,

    “That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty‚Äôs Government”;

    which was debated on March 28th, agreed to, and led to a general election.

    Reply: It was debated and voted on when tabled as a different kind of motion. As an EDM it did nothing

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted March 16, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      So the House of Commons Information Office got that wrong, then.

      Petitions also seem to be a waste of time, as far as their Parliamentary impact is concerned.

      On at least two occasions I’ve seen an MP earnestly presenting a petition from his constituents, making an eloquent and persuasive speech to a chamber which was empty apart from himself, maybe one other MP sitting on the government front bench, and the officials.

      At the end of his speech, the petition was carefully placed on a pile with others, and that was that – except that he could then tell his constituents that he presented their petition to the House, and leave them to assume that the House was there, and was suitably impressed.

      Recently on a TV quiz one question was “What is the quorum for the House of Commons”, and the correct answer was “Forty”, but maybe that only applies for divisions:

      http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200607/cmstords/405/40509.htm

      because if it applied all the time the House would usually be inquorate.

  6. alan jutson
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Early Day Motions.
    Think I have another shorter word for that, for whatever good it will do.

    Another paperwork exercise.

  7. Paul Danon
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    Do be kinder to us, Mr Redwood. The pressure on MPs to sign EDMs is a symptom of how constituents feel cut off from the parliamentary process. My MP has stopped replying to a number of my original, non-copied communications on serious subjects such as transport in the constituency. When MPs ignore their own people it’s getting pretty bad.

  8. mikestallard
    Posted March 16, 2009 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    OK, I’ll own up.
    The Catholic church is, perhaps, the worst offender here! Whenever something comes up that we don’t like – abortion, IV fertilization, stem research, etc etc, we are all given a postcard to sign in Church and to send to our MP.
    And I also wish to own up to the fact that this is something (else) which I never do, even when asked.
    Bullying my MP is something which I save for really important things – like when a student’s passport is lost by the Home Office, for instance.
    Isn’t is funny how much trust people place in their MPs even when, as our host constantly laments, their views count for less and less.

  9. pp
    Posted March 17, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    John

    You state the problem, but don’t propose a solution.

    People are contacting their MPs about things they care about and clearly believe that EDMs are a mechanism for doing this.

    If, as you say, they are worthless – what do you propose those individuals should be doing instead?

    Or is yours a council of despair?

    Reply:

    No, it is not a council of despair. I am saying if you care about something, then write to your MP, but write a personal email or letter and speak from your own experience. It is largely pointless for dozens of people to send exactly the same card or form of words to the same MP. A good MP will already be on the case, and an unsympathetic one is not going to be swayed by yet another EDM request.

  10. Jamie
    Posted March 17, 2009 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    But I thought signing an EDM would cure cancer? That’s what the charity told me…!

    Seriously though, it’s the most staggering waste of taxpayers’ and charity donors’ money. As you say, the purpose of EDMs is so that a lobbyist (be they corporate or charitable) can justify their inflated salary, and so that the tabling MP can stick it in a constituency newsletter and justify their, umm, inflated salary.

    Most people signing these cards never expect a reply (although most MPs are assiduous in responding) and few of them even really know what it is they’re signing.

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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