On Monday afternoon I met with Sarah Teather in her constituency office on Willesden Lane. We spoke about a number of things: blogging (needless to say), engaging with constituents, getting voice for unreported activities, technology as a barrier (for BELD!) and as an enabler (for local people) and also a little project I’ve been working on.

How Sarah engages with her constituents

The BELDs maintain an office on the Willesden High Road. You couldn’t be more central in the Brent East constituency if you tried. The office has an open door policy for people to drop in for information (in multiple languages) and to make appointments to meet Sarah. This is in addition to the surgeries held. Sarah feels that this is the most direct way of engaging with the local people, if not the most cost effective. At the very least, she is LOCAL. High visibility. High availability.

I commented last week on the recent survey exercise being undertaken by Sarah. I was highly critical of the online version of the survey. Discussing this with Sarah, I have understood cost to be a barrier to producing an online version – although I suspect that someone has been over-quoting or under-specifying their services for that to be the case. I have volunteered to give some assistance in setting up a survey function for the BELD website. I mean, come on, it’s only a Perl script at most!

Sarah outlined to me how the offline version of the survey is being carried out. Those of you who have met Sarah on your doorstep recently will already be aware. Sarah believes that by posting and collecting the survey IN PERSON (assuming someone is in), she is demonstrating her direct involvement with and personal commitment to the Brent East constituents.

Posted late to our meeting on the BELD website is a news piece about the recent survey. It thanks those local residents who have responded and highlights a number of ‘grot spots’ that Sarah promises action on.

The ‘Disproportionate Cost’ problem.

I was a little deriding of the statistical information being asked for in the survey. Those of you who have read any of the Parliamentary Questions and Answers from Hansard (although TWFU.com does it better) will have seen the answer ‘Information is not collected centrally and could only be obtained at disproportionate cost’. Discussing this with Sarah I’ve understood that the data BELD are trying to gather plugs gaps in centrally available data and she intends to use it to focus and prioritise her efforts in improving the social circumstances of her constituents. Good! We get the chance to tell it like it is, Sarah then will act.

What Sarah Does versus What Gets Reported

During June I offered a fiver to anyone who spotted Sarah in Brent East. I now have the whereabouts of my MP for that period.

What didn’t get reported during that period was the opening of a new Cardiology Unit at Central Middlesex Hospital by Sarah, along with a Hostel for Brent MIND who’s dual diagnosis work Sarah strongly supports She also opened an Advisory Centre for Age Concern in South Kilburn.

The press releases for these activities were not posted due to staff illness. If Sarah and her team maintained even a small section of their site as a blog (in a similar way to their LD colleague Lynne Featherstone this could have been avoided…for the time taken to write an email. Blogging would allow Sarah to get her message across directly, avoiding the fickle judgement of local news editors or a dependency on a single member of staff.

The Political Weblog Movement. Briefly.

At the beginning of our meeting Sarah made it clear that blogging was not on her list of methods of communicating with her constituents, feeling her office in the centre of the constituency, the open door policy, street walking and surgeries make her easily reached. We did speak about the internet as a tool and how it is employed by Sarah’s team for communication.

Going forward.

Sarah and her team have been working on a Diary Digest mail. I’ll be receiving that and posting it her. I’ll carry on giving coverage, campaigning, commenting, criticising and perhaps occasionally complimenting the work of Sarah Teather here.

Does this work out as a win for Sarah? I carry on doing those things for her – and she gets free publicity! Or does she…? With this blog riding the search results, it’ll soon become the single most authoritative (as for as the web is concerned) site for Sarah Teather. (Rubs hands with glee)

As I said at our meeting, I’m not anti-Sarah Teather nor anti-Liberal Democrat’. But if there is to be no forum for discussion on the BELD website, with involvement from Sarah, then perhaps here is the next best thing.

Sarah, thanks once again for your time. I hope that we can continue to work together for the greater benefit of Brent East. And I thank your staff in advance for their support in this by forwarding me Diary Digests, Press Releases and other items for the blog.

I encourage you to consider registering an account with Blogger and to post comments here. Hey, I’ll give you the ability to post direct to this blog!