Way back in the mists of time, my first awareness of an MP making themselves available to their constituents came through the pages of the John O’Groat Journal. Robert Maclennan, then a Labour MP but soon to join the SDP, held regular “phone-in clinics.” This was a sensible approach to dealing with his vast constituency of Caithness and Sutherland. He had the face to face version as well, but the regular phone surgeries, accessed by a freephone number so there was no cost to the constituents,made sense to me.
That was more than 30 years ago. Today, MPs are always looking for new ways to stay in touch with people. When I worked for Willie, we took casework off Facebook and Twitter on a daily basis. Mike Crockart, Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West, has decided to start holding surgeries via Skype.
The first event will take place on March 28th between 5-6 pm. Anyone who wants to take part will need do contact Mike’s office in 0131 339 0339 to be allocated a private appointment.They would then have to download Skype and dial in on the day. I asked what would happen if a session over-ran and the next person dialled in. They simply wouldn’t be added to the call until the previous person was finished.
Another thing I discovered was that Mike has done sign language surgeries using a webcam for deaf constituents.
Introducing the e-surgeries, Mike said:
I know that people are busy and that often they can’t make it along to my surgeries. I want to be as accessible as possible for people who wish to let me now their views and for people who need my help.
For busy parents, business owners and those who live in the more rural parts of my constituency the e-surgeries offer a quick and convenient way to get in touch with me. At the moment those in some rural parts may struggle to secure the broadband speed required for the software, but I am confident that my campaign for better broadband will change that.
I am looking forward to hearing how the surgery goes. I know that Liberal Youth hold a lot of their Execs by Skype so it should work well. Quite often, you need to hand over documentation when you are asking your MP to deal with something for you but that can be done at a different time or by post or by scanning and emailing them.