Minister for junk mail

Careful, your MP wants your email address

Spam

Oliver Dowden, MP for Hertsmere, Co-Chairman of the Conservative Party and unlikely attack dog in the Culture Wars, has a new, slightly demeaning job. He’s been tasked with adding names to the Conservative Party’s email marketing list. He’s doing this by attacking some Labour politicians for supporting the RMT’s strike action. Nothing new about attacking organised labour, of course, but Dowden’s approach is unusual and quite possibly unprecedented – he’s started a petition which will apparently be delivered to the opposition Labour party.

The eccentricity of this approach: a governing party – and one with a 75-seat majority in the House of Commons – petitioning the party that is currently out of power for action in an industrial dispute – will not have escaped you. But the oddball logic will become clear if you actually try to complete the petition. It’s a fake petition. You’ll find that, although you’re offered two options (condemn the strikes, don’t condemn the strikes), whichever way you vote you’ll be required to provide an email address and agree to receive email ‘about the Party’s campaigns and opportunities to get involved’. Boom, you’re on the list.

This kind of data collection mechanic disguised as a campaign has, as you’d expect, been imported from US politics, where Donald Trump and others have been building huge email and telephone databases and surveilling voters via similar devices for years. In this country, political parties are governed by data protection regulations just like other organisations and this petition looks legit but you may want to take your usual precautions against the kind of epic quantities of spam that political parties routinely produce.

Top tip: if you have one, use a special email address when you’re obliged to sign up for junk mail in this way – we have one which deletes all email before we even see it.

And don’t forget that the Conservatives have form when it comes to dodgy online marketing. There was that time they broke Twitter’s rules by pretending to be a ‘fact checking’ organisation and that other time when they were fined £10,000 for breaking data protection law.

Of course, whether it’s a dignified thing for a prominent politician – one who until not long ago was an actual Minister of the Crown (he was replaced by Nadine Dorries) – to be grubbing around for qualified leads for the party’s junk mail department is another matter – one we’ll leave to Mr Dowden’s conscience.

If you’d like to sign it, the ‘Stop the Strikes’ petition is on the Conservative Party web site. The Information Commissioner has detailed guidance for the use of personal data by political parties.

Standing room-only for anti-incinerator meeting

The WING group's anti-incinerator public meeting at the Radlett Centre on 24 March 2011

UPDATE: I’ve added details of the campaign’s Twitter account.

The Radlett Centre was full to the doors for last night’s public meeting. And the WING anti-incinerator group‘s formidable package of information and political organisation went down well with the assembled crowd. The campaign has evident clout – what other campaign could attract two local MPs to a public meeting affecting constituents of only one? (correction: a comment points out the the Harper Lane site is actually in the constituency of Anne Main so this is clearly the concern of both MPs). Both spoke strongly against the scheme, questioning the legality of the local authority’s process as well as the usefulness of the scheme and its potential impact on the village. Calls from the floor for disclosure of the contact details of all the Hertfordshire councillors involved in the decision met with raucous approval. As did the suggestion that those of us who buy our electricity from E.ON, the Radlett scheme’s sponsor, should switch to another supplier.

There is much anger about the incinerator – at least amongst those represented in the room. But it’s not clear how much opposition there is in the wider community for a scheme that, if built, will occupy a former aggregate yard a mile from the village. If I were a councillor on the relevant committee I’d have my tin hat at the ready right now.

The WING group has a Facebook page and a blog and is on Twitter. The organisers are cleverly mobilising environmental opposition to incinerators in general for the campaign – there are plenty of useful links on the blog. There doesn’t seem to be a hashtag for the campaign yet but I’m sure one will emerge.