Along with all MPs I regularly receive campaign emails originated from various organisations to which supporters of the particular cause sign up and send a template email to their MP. Many of these templates are well-constructed and the emails can be helpful in giving an indication of the level of support for a particular campaign. What is too often missing with this campaign approach are the personal stories that so often give such meaning to the issues that people raise.
One recent campaign has been from perhaps a relatively small group on treatment for Cystic Fibrosis. In particular I have been contacted by parents of children suffering from the condition desperate to get access to a drug which they believe could literally be life-saving for their children. The drug is Orkambi which only has limited availability in the UK but which campaigners believe there is evidence to support wider use. In order to get a better understanding I have visited families in the constituency living with the condition; visits which have been enormously helpful to me in sharing evidence in Parliament.
On the other side of the story there are some campaigns that get off the ground on the basis of fake or ill-informed news. One recent one is on the provision of school meals where some wrongly claim that there has been a huge cut in this. This is not so and it is good news that public ‘fact checks’ are setting the record straight. For example the Channel 4 fact check questions the claim and sets out the actual detail. It is all part of the changes to the Benefits System and I am pleased that it will enable some 50,000 more children to get free school meals compared with the former benefits plan. I am also pleased that nobody currently receiving free school meals will lose their entitlement.
Checking the facts is always important and, of course, we will never get away from different interpretations of the same information. Whenever I am contacted by a constituent on a situation I always try to find out more before simply firing off a letter or whatever first action might be called for. It is important to hear all sides of the story and get an understanding of situations. Often when you talk to different people about the same issue the different ‘angles’ you get helps to provide a rounded picture – which I appreciate. This is something that I am finding particularly valuable in my ‘conversations in the street’. This is a programme of just walking around different villages in the constituency and talking to those I meet on whatever issue they like to bring up. It is not a fixed programme as it is worked around where I need to be for meetings. If you see me out and about and have something you want to discuss do please stop me and have a chat. Face to face conversations are always so much more productive than the short exchanges possible on social media.
There are other ways in which I try to keep in touch with constituents too. I produce a periodic electronic newsletter and briefings on specific issues as well as writing in these parish magazines. If you would like to subscribe to me electronic briefings please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also use Facebook to share some snippets of information (www.facebook.com/JohnHowellOxfordshire) and use twitter too. (@JHowellUK )
If you would like to share your thoughts on an issue with me you can email me at email@example.com or write to me at the House of Commons.
If you would like to know more about my work in Westminster, on behalf of the Government and the Constituency please do look at my website which is regularly updated. The address is www.johnhowellmp.com. Further details of the work of Parliament is available on the parliament website at www.parliament.uk. As always, I am interested to hear constituent’s views on the proposals before the House.