MPs expenses – yes we can!

Let the halls of the internet ring with celebration! Following Brown’s climbdown over Thursday’s vote on MPs expenses a few hours ago (looks like nobody told poor old Margaret Beckett), it’s starting to dawn on the citizens of cyberspace that, hey, we actually DID something! Enough contacts were made, enough comments, twitters, links, emails, posts and messages, to prompt those letters, pinging off apparently to over 90% of MPs (yes, I am watching you, Mr Grayling).

Tom at MySociety (where Bad Science is among the commenting celebrants) is deservedly delirious with joy:

Make no mistake. This is new, and it reflects the fact that the Internet generation expects information to be made available, and they expect to be able to make up their own minds, not be spoon fed the views of others. This campaign was always about more than receipts, it was about changing the direction of travel, away from secrecy and towards openness.

Matthew Cain has a lengthier dissection of why the campaign was successful. I agree with him particularly that the short time limit was incredibly important in motivating people. As was the clarity expected of the result – either the Commons would vote it down, or they would not (or, as happened, the government would take it off the table). Essentially we’re talking a campaigning objective with the same clear parameters as a football match, and that is key to the whole thing.

But there’s one point I would add to his analysis – this was also a very clear-cut issue in the public mind already. Venally corrupt politicians have been the target of popular campaigning since the dawn of time – it’s not a hard sell. The familiarity of the issue and the strength of the feelings it arouses was an absolutely vital precondition to raising awareness of the impending vote. It’s not something that can be reproduced with just any campaign objective. And we should probably, as we whizz around the ether patting ourselves on the back, bear in mind that we have years and years of traditional, dogged dead-tree media work to thank for that backstory.

But the doubts and the post-mortem are for another day! For now, spare a thought for the pole-axed “Austin”, who simply comments at MySociety:

This was the first time I’ve ever emailed my MP.

What an initiation.

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