An idea from Matthew Parris that will unite political activists everywhere

head over heels in the letterboxThe Lib-Con Coalition may have run out-of-steam, but Conservative MP-turned-columnist Matthew Parris has identified a policy around which the two parties could happily unite. Indeed, his proposal might even form the basis for a Rainbow Coalition of all the parties.

What’s prompted the idea is that Matthew’s been out delivering leaflets recently. And it has unleashed within him his ‘inner fascist’:

I want order. I want consistency. I want standards. And I want eye-watering penalties for property owners who try their fellow Britons’ patience and waste our time by making their addresses impossible to find. I am driven to distraction by the merry chaos of British residential and commercial addresses, and if I crick my back one more time stooping to try to force a flimsy paper envelope through a vicious ankle-level steel trap of a letterbox, I shall resign as a libertarian and howl for regulation.

So here’s his solution:

‘Mediating’ grassroots candidate-selection meetings I often ask would-be candidates: if you were lucky in the Commons ballot and won the chance to sponsor a Private Member’s Bill, what would it be? After a lifetime of delivering and canvassing, I know what mine would be. I can hear the Commons Clerk reading it out now …

‘A Bill to establish a rational system of street numbering for domestic and commercial addresses; and for the application of compulsory common standards for the elevation, internal dimensions, resistance of spring-loaded flaps and density of draft-excluders, of all letter boxes designed for general use; for greater clarity in the siting of such letter boxes; for ease of access to and between such letter boxes; and for associated purposes.’

Make that Item #1 in the next Programme for Government.

* Stephen was Editor (and Co-Editor) of Liberal Democrat Voice from 2007 to 2015, and writes at The Collected Stephen Tall.

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  • Richard Dean 14th Aug '14 - 6:12pm

    Is it liberal?

  • YES!!! Brilliant idea. That is a policy which should unite every political activist!

  • John Swarbrick 14th Aug '14 - 6:40pm

    It’s almost as if (35 years after being elected to Parliament) he has only just discovered the perils of letter-boxes and the foibles of the house numbering system.


  • What about buzzers on flats? The times I have walked up to a front door to canvass (already a nightmare when conducted via an intercom) and there are, say, six buzzers, four flats listed, but clearly eight flats in the building. None of the buzzers are marked with names, or they might be listed in a way that in inconsistent with the list I have. Why can it be consistent, clear and unambiguous. Hmm. I might have to move an amendment to the Parris Bill 😉

  • Paul in Wokingham 14th Aug '14 - 7:45pm

    Back in the 90’s while living in San Francisco, I did some campaigning for Tom Ammiano, who was in a run-off for Mayor. Ammiano was up against the official Democratic candidate, Willy Brown. Being San Francisco, the fight was between the Democrat and an independent who was to the left of the Democrat.

    One of the many interesting things that I learned during that campaign was that letter boxes in the USA are the property of the US Postal Service, and you can’t put political campaign material through them. So all the leaflets were designed to be “hangable” on door furniture etc.

    Here in the UK you simply look for a letterbox. Over there, finding something you can hang the leaflet onto can feel like doing The Krypton Factor at each door.

  • Tony Dawson 14th Aug '14 - 7:59pm

    Next Stalinist policy: standard horizontal letterboxes at waist height! 🙂

  • On a more serious note, I’ve always thought that this kind of thing must make things very difficult for the emergency services.

  • Alun Griffiths 14th Aug '14 - 8:45pm

    “Letterboxes, letterboxes,
    Should be subject to reg-ula-tions
    All at waist hight, never sideways
    and they’ll all look just the same”

    I can’t be the only one to have the Liberator songbook?
    (from memory so apologies to the writers if not 100% accurate recollection)

  • Little Jackie Paper 14th Aug '14 - 10:04pm

    Stuart – ‘Why can it be consistent, clear and unambiguous.’

    Because there are those of us that do it deliberately to make it hard for those doing a canvass etc to find us. Suffice it to say that your amendment would be met with civil disobedience.

  • I suppose we could get training from unemployed postal staff

  • peter tyzack 15th Aug '14 - 9:33am

    There is already provision for letter boxes/flaps in an old Post Office Act, but it was never enforced. but it could easily be sorted by an amendment to the Building Regs, next time they are altered. Councils have powers regarding street numbering(though named by the developer or community), but as regards to consistency with the list in your hand when you go canvassing, Stuart, that is down to how the electoral register is arranged. As a Councillor I used to get sent a draft of the next year’s register, and I was able to check it for anomalies and I was able to get many of these irritations sorted. Something to add to the councillor’s job description(if one ever gets written), as who else(in theory) knows the patch so well.
    I was actually complimented by my postie for having an excellent flap(!), but when I bought it I could not find a flap that was A4 width in the usual hardware places… and people moan about the postie folding up stuff..

  • Angela Davies 15th Aug '14 - 9:37am

    Be very afraid! The Tories are reduced to delivering leaflets.

  • Darren Reynolds 15th Aug '14 - 1:56pm

    Come, now.

    Do you not remember delivering in the pissing rain, happily chortling to yourself that no other party was so fanatical as to be out in such conditions, and that therefore yours was the only leaflet that was going to be read?

    Liberals celebrate diversity. Let us celebrate letterboxes in the most confusing and hardest-to-reach places. And then, let us laugh heartily as Tories and Labour alike simply give up!

  • Sadie Smith 15th Aug '14 - 2:31pm

    Suspect my large builder made box designed to take Council papers and with a bottom flap with bolt would not meet his regulations.
    For complete madness in numbering, parts of Japan must be hard to beat.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 15th Aug '14 - 2:36pm

    Thanks for the silly stuff – much appreciated on a dull day. We live in a wonderful assembly of ‘homes’ – some in courts, muses, updated or down-dated, apartments, flats, granny-flats, wings, garages, studios. Mr. Paris is, as always, asking for the impossible – that fits his rant for the day. Unless some future Pickles ask for all building to be struck down and made into neat rows of Suburbian conformity – it’s not going to happen – thank God!

  • nvelope2003 15th Aug '14 - 2:54pm

    By the time Parliament ever got round to discussing, let alone passing, such a law letter boxes would have become redundant and all communications would be done electronically or not at all. Parcels would have to be collected from a local parcel point unless you paid a huge fee for delivery.

  • Peter Andrews 15th Aug '14 - 6:59pm

    I’d just settle for all houses having to display a name or number visible from the road and having to have a functioning door bell or door knocker

    A bonus would be letter boxes having to be located on the front door of the house (why oh why anyone would want strangers wandering round to the back door of their house to post things I have no idea)

  • David Allen 15th Aug '14 - 7:08pm

    Try walking through a Slovenian village, where it appears they allocate a single series of house numbers in order of building construction, so that number 217 might be found behind number 43…

    Was on holiday, didn’t bring any Focuses, thankfully!

  • Elaine Woodard 15th Aug '14 - 7:23pm

    Letter boxes at the bottom of a door are ideal when you can reach them without climbing the steps to the front door, so the policy would need to allow for this. And long drives should be made to have a postbox at the road end and shingle drives should be banned.

  • John Probert 15th Aug '14 - 8:16pm

    When is a box not a box?

  • Richard Dean 15th Aug '14 - 8:23pm

    …When it’s just a flap! 🙂

  • Brian Mathew 16th Aug '14 - 10:36am

    And what regulation shall we bring in for snappy doggy’s with teeth that bite? LOL

  • Simon Oliver 16th Aug '14 - 1:51pm

    Brian – already done one – owner now legally responsible for dog biting you on their own property if you are there legally.

  • Chris Holman 18th Aug '14 - 3:38pm

    I totally agree with Matthew Pariss, I am amazed that the Mail workers union has not been aggitating for ages to reduce the risk of back problems for their members.

    But I would also make it compulsory for dog owners to fit a letter box/cage on the inside of the door or a mailbox on the wall outside to eliminate the risk to Posties & leaflet deliverers of being bitten.

    I speak from bitter experience; once having a Jack Russel, which was new to the house, hanging off a finger & only letting go when I managed to reach the doorbell to summon the owner, also withdrawing a bloody finger after a silent dog decided to attack it.

    Chris Holman

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