Why the personal touch should matter to our MPs and elected members

Hands tap on a computer keyboard

The personal touch like returning emails matters to voters - and readers - says David Powles - Credit: Pixabay

My column last week seems to have struck a chord with a lot of people, judging by the responses on our letters pages, through email and social media.

In case you missed it, I covered the growing issue of certain elected officials failing to respond to our requests for a response on key issues impacting either themselves, their constituents or their respective political party.

As I said at the time, I presume that either the EDP's audience doesn't matter enough to them to warrant a response or, as I suspect, it's part of a deliberate tactic, the hope being that by ignoring us (or the issue at hand), we simply go away.

From the responses, I'm confident this isn't just an Eastern Daily Press problem. People in media in Norfolk, as well as other parts of the country, confirmed they face the same problem, often with the same people.

However, more worryingly was the response from numerous members of the public who say they too often feel completely ignored by their particular elected representative, be it an MP or a local councillor.

Numerous people told of trying, often on numerous occasions, to get in touch with their elected official, only to be met with complete silence or an automated response promising a reply further down the line, which then doesn't materialise.

Now I do have some sympathy with politicians on this matter. In this era of mass communication it's easier than ever to get in touch with someone, whether that be on the phone, email or on the many different social media channels.

It may only take 30 seconds to fire off an email, but once done that person expects a reply and is likely to be disgruntled if they get nothing back. We face a similar issue in the newsroom and I face a similar situation as editor of this newspaper.

A polling booth. PHOTO: PA.

Could failing to respond come with a cost at the ballot box? - Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima

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However, I have a golden rule. If you go to the trouble to contact me, I'll at least go to the trouble to contact you back, whether it's personally or through a colleague. That message is also drummed into everyone who works here and I'm always disappointed to learn if that hasn't been the case.

There's a reason for that. You're a customer, you buy into what we do and therefore it's our job to at least recognise that with a reply. Even if it isn't always the one you were hoping for.

Perhaps our elected officials get many more correspondences than the editor of the local newspaper? But if they don't, I would suggest that maybe it's time they started to apply the same rule to their own dealings with the public.

Voters may not be purchasing a product from their local MP or councillor, but they are buying into that person. Just as they have the ability to stop buying the EDP or visiting our website, they do have the ability to stop supporting their local representative.

And they don't even need to personally respond themselves. Every MP has a budget which enables them to employ staff to act and speak on their behalf.

What worries me, is that some of those guilty of failing to respond to the people they represent might do so because they don't feel it matters. Of course some may do so out of complacency, others because they simply cannot be bothered.

If that's the case I'd ask them to take a long hard look at themselves, as they may be in need of a reminder as to why they got into the role in the first place.

The best MPs and elected officials - and I'm sure all of us could name who these people are - realise the importance of the personal touch.

They're the ones who take the time to respond, remember a first name and recognise that a reply matters.

They're also the ones who get voted in time and time again. 

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