Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Electioneering by Governments

Labour has been emailing cancer patients and GPs in order to garner their support and, yesterday, they launched their manifesto in a new hospital extension in Birmingham (it hasn't yet been handed over to the NHS, but that hasn't stopped the Conservatives from accusing the Brown government of breaking Cabinet Office rules on electioneering). These tactics, amount to an unfair advantage for governments over opposition parties, and I wonder how this would play out within the Interactive Democracy system.
For example, would it be acceptable to allow the government to email doctors about a bill they were sponsoring, say on the future of the NHS?
Should the opposition be allowed access to the same channel to make their case?
I think it impracticable to allow others access to these email addresses. Apart from anything else the Information Commission would probably have something to say about it. At the least it's likely to lead to a plethora of nuisance emails and at worst could lead to a breach of security.
If the government had sole access to these contacts, it provides an opportunity to promote one side of the story, and introduce bias, but on the one hand it would raise the subject for debate, which is probably a good thing.
So, perhaps the solution is to encourage governments to contact public servants in order to highlight relevant debates but prohibit them from presenting their arguments in the email. Instead they should include a link to the ID site where all sides of the debate can be aired.

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