They work for us (without pay)

A few years ago, a bunch of people got irritated that many MPs had no public email address, or refused to respond to emails  (on the grounds that they couldn’t tell whether they came from constituents or not).  The result was FaxYourMP.com – a simple postcode lookup cum email-to-fax converter (fax numbers being easier to winkle out).  That has since developed into WriteToThem.com.

On something of a roll, many of the same people also created TheyWorkForYou.com, which takes raw Hansard and adds value by presenting it much more cleanly than Parliament does itself and has grown into a comprehensive tool for scrutinising MPs (from which I have just discovered that mine is the most rebellious of all MPs, but is 584th (of 645) for turning up for votes, which is quite an achievement for a constituency which is one river’s width from Westminster).

They then (and I think I have my chronology right here, but at their production rate it can be hard to tell) turned their attention to the Downing Street press briefings, rescued them from the murk of the No10 site, and created DowningStreetSays.com.

They are partly in my mind because one spare evening, having nothing much else to do, they knocked up Directionlessgov.com, an attempt to demonstrate that a Google front end is a better way into government than the slightly longer in gestation and larger in cost Directgov.

There’s a bunch of other stuff as well (Pepys’s diary as a blog in real time, to give one inspired example), but I am getting tired just thinking about it.  Two questions:

  • How do they do it?
  • Why can’t we be like that?

Probably no easy answer to either which doesn’t involve getting seriously depressed.  But I think there is a clue in one of the helpful annotations to TheyWorkForYou: ‘What are debates?’, they ask, and the answer is:

What are Debates?

Debates in the House of Commons are an opportunity for MPs from all parties to scrutinise government legislation and raise important local, national or topical issues.
And sometimes to shout at each other.

The combination of the two parts of the answer says it all.