Wednesday 25 July 2012

My First 38 Degrees Event

The Communications Bill (currently in draft) is a nasty bit of legislation that opens the floodgates for wide scale invasion of privacy that will further the decline of the UK into a police state. It has to be stopped — so I organised a 38 degrees petition hand in for people of Blyth. We were to visit our MP and give him the list of all constituents that had signed the petition in his area.

Organising It

This bit was easy, well almost. The 38 Degrees part was painless and I was effortlessly guided through the whole process. When I had a question to ask, it was answered via email within a matter of minutes. The press release tool was a particularly nice touch because it took less than a minute and it got two photographers there for the hand in.

The difficult part was our local MP, Ronnie Campbell. He has a strict open door policy, which on the one hand is good, but on the other means that his office categorically refuses to allow constituents to book meetings in advance. Because of this the time and date for the petition hand in had to change a few times.

Turnout

On the day there were four of us (thanks Jo, Jane & Megan). Now this might not seem like a lot, but it was enough and I was super happy that there are other people who feel as strongly about this bill as I do. We met a local cafe prior to the hand in got to know each other over a nice cup of tea and then went over to our MP’s office …

MP Was Confrontational

When we got to the office I was greeted with my MP launching a rather passionate verbal assault at me. I stood my ground, but it was clear he wanted to assert himself. I don’t want to dwell on this fact too much, because that’s not the nature of this blog post. The short version of that story was that he took offense at my (emailed) suggestion that it would be good form to allow constituents to be able to book meetings. At no point in my emails was I rude. I was firm and perhaps a little blunt, but never rude or offensive.

I believe that either our MP thought we were there to give him an earful or he saw our presence as a threat (attack is the best defence). In any eventuality it was bad form and really do expect better anger management from a Member of Parliament.

Calmed Down & Talked

We defused the situation by going outside to have some photographs taken and it seemed to work. When we came back and finally got to see our MP everything was nice and calm. A fresh start and we got down to business. We had a good half hour conversation with him.

His view point from the start was clear, that the bill is needed to catch Paedophiles & Terrorists – egads. As we talked it began to emerge to me that our MP hadn’t read the bill, and he appeared to be taking our points on board for use in debate later on. If I didn’t know any better I’d say we were schooling him about it.

The day before the hand in I read the bill (it was my weekly dose of legalise in one sitting) making note of a few sections (pg25, Part II, section 6&7) that jumped out at me. This was a great help and if you’re planning something similar, I’d recommend you do it because the better you communicate a researched viewpoint free of anecdotal contention, the better chance you stand of having a meaningful discourse.

It was nice to see everyone else getting involved in the discussion as well. It was a great help to have a member of the Labour party with us on the Day, because it was made clear to us in no uncertain terms that our MP viewed us all as ‘very left lefties’. Having a member of the Labour party with us really helped our credibility with the MP.

Our MP is a politician, so I trust him less than I would a devil at a crossroads with a contract and a pen, but it did appear to me that we may have shifted his position a few millimetres away from “Catch all the Paedophiles & Terrorists” and a few millimetres towards “This bill is the thin edge of the wedge”.

We left amicably and I even shook the MP’s hand. It was certainly a worthwhile thing to do. Change has to start from somewhere.

Doing it again?

I will. Next time however, I think I’l stress in my email to the office that we’re not coming to tell our MP how to do his job, but rather just to talk with him and offer some viewpoints that he can use in debate.

It’s also left me with the crazy idea of forming a political party. Change has to start somewhere.