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The failure of representative democracy – a case study

Simon | 18.02.2006 20:39 | Analysis | Repression | Technology

This is a sorry tale of the government’s ID card Bill, a misquote in the local press and an MP who doesn’t answer questions.

This tale starts with a feature on ID cards, published in the Swindon Advertiser in November 2005. Alongside an article by the founder of the Swindon no2id group, there was an interview with South Swindon’s Blairite MP, and supporter of the ID card scheme, Anne Snelgrove. The confusion started when the Adver misquoted Anne Snelgrove as saying that she had received thousands of letters in support of ID cards. What she actually said was

“Of the thousands of letters I have received since the end of the Summer Recess, I have not received one which was in opposition to identity cards”.

Local no2id campaigners wrote an open letter to the Adver pointing out that several members of their group were constituents of hers, and most certainly had written to her expressing their opposition to the ID cards bill. Concerned at what looked like an attempt by an MP to misrepresent the views of her constituents, I paid a visit to and sent her an e-mail explaining that I too opposed the ID card scheme, urging her as my (alleged) representative in Parliament to oppose the ID card bill, and asking the following questions:

> Do you still deny receiving any communications from constituents opposing this scheme? Will you still deny receiving any once you have received this message from me?

From experience of correspondence with my previous MP, I didn’t hold out much hope of persuading Anne Snelgrove to defy her party line and vote against the ID card bill. But I expected at least an acknowledgement that she had received letters from constituents stating their opposition to the scheme.

What I received instead, was a letter on the same posh yellow paper used by my previous MP, only with Julia Drown’s mug shot replaced by one of Anne Snelgrove, and the addition of the dubious strapline “Working hard for South Swindon”. The text of this letter follows.

> Thank you for your letter about a quote in the Swindon Evening Advertiser of November 19 which said “Of the thousands of letters I’ve received on the subject of ID cards, not one has come out in opposition to identity cards”. I am writing to tell you that this quote was incorrect, and a genuine mistake on the part of the journalist.
> As you might expect I have read and replied to many constituents on this issue since May, although certainly not thousands and none since the end of the recess. The original quote submitted by telephone was: “Of the thousands of letters I have received since the end of the recess, I have not received one which is in opposition to identity cards”.
> I have passed my concerns on to the Swindon Advertiser, with the correct statement: “Of the thousands of letters I had received since the end of the Summer Recess, I had not received one which was in opposition to identity cards”.
> With best wishes, etc, etc.

So the Adver made a mistake when transcribing her quote over the phone, and she wants to provide the correct quote, twice (with a mysterious change of tense between the first and the second). Mistakes happen. But does she still deny receiving any communication from her constituents opposing the ID card scheme? Reading her letter again, she doesn’t say one way or the other.

So I went back to and sent her another e-mail, restating the question.

> Thank you for your letter regarding ID cards and the proposed national identity register.
> I accept your point about being misquoted by the Adver, and that you were not claiming to have received thousands of letters in support of ID cards. However, your original statement
> "Of the thousands of letters I had received since the end of the Summer Recess, I had not received one which was in opposition to identity cards"
> is no longer true. I, for one, wrote to you via stating my opposition to ID cards. I know this communication arrived in your office, because I received first the acknowledgment postcard and then your letter referenced above. I do not know however whether you actually read it, because your letter does not answer the questions I asked, but instead seems to be a template letter written for anyone querying your quote in the Adver.
> So I will restate the question:
> Do you still deny receiving any communications from constituents opposing ID cards?
> Yours sincerely, etc, etc

This time she answered my question:

> Thank you for your email of 13 December. In answer to your question, 15 people were recorded as writing to me opposing ID cards since I was elected in May, although I have not collated my records since October. Since October I would estimate that as many as 20 residents have written to me.
> I am in favour of ID cards and more information on the debate can be obtained from the Home Office website and In future I may acknowledge your correspondence with a postcard which means I have read and accepted your concerns.
> With best wishes, etc, etc

So she admits that there is a section of public opinion opposed to the ID card scheme, and makes it clear that she’s not prepared to take any notice of them. There was also a handwritten postscript:

“PS I read all correspondence, but if you ask the same questions as other constituents, you get the same reply!”

Hang on a minute! I asked a question in my first e-mail, which she didn’t answer in her reply, so I asked her it again. Was this some strange attempt to justify not answering my question in the first place? But lacking the energy to pursue an increasingly bizarre argument with someone who clearly wasn’t interested in my views, I let the matter rest for the time being.

In January 2006, I wrote to Anne Snelgrove again, pointing out that the ID card bill would be returning from the House of Lords to the Commons with some amendments, and suggesting that this would be a good time to reconsider her support for the bill. Briefly summarising the arguments against the scheme which I had sent in my first letter, I asked her a new question:

> So why do you think this scheme is a good idea? Not why Tony Blair or the Government or the Home Office thinks it's a good idea, but why you, Anne Snelgrove, my (alleged) representative in Parliament, think it's a good idea. There must be a reason, but you haven't told me what it is - what is it?

I thought this was a fairly reasonable question, but evidently my MP disagreed. Her reply was quite shocking in the contempt it demonstrated:

> Thank you for your e-mail of 22nd January 2006. I think we can summarise the debate as you are against ID cards, I am for them for the reasons described in my previous correspondence.
> ID cards formed part of the Labour Party Manifesto upon which both Tony Blair and I were elected. I see no point in continuing this correspondence if you refuse to accept my explanations.
> With best wishes, etc, etc

Putting the contempt issue aside for a moment, I think we should review a few facts about the 2005 General Election.

* Although the Labour party won enough constituencies to form a majority government, their majority was drastically cut, being the only major party to lose seats overall.
* Only 37% of the vote was for Labour candidates, and given a 61% turnout, that means less than a quarter of the electorate voted for a Labour government.
* Similarly in South Swindon, Anne Snelgrove saw the majority of over seven thousand she inherited from Julia Drown slashed to just 1,353 – she got 40% of the vote and 24% of the electorate.

Although the manifesto does mention the introduction of ID cards (although as an initially voluntary scheme), none of the campaign communications which Anne Snelgrove’s team put through my door mentions this as an election promise. There are two leaflets dedicated to scaring me with the prospect of Michael Howard as Prime Minister, and another four packed with quotes from hand-picked “real people” saying what a splendid job Labour is doing for South Swindon.

“MY PLEDGES”, screams the postcard offering me a lift to the polling station:

* Swindon families better off
* Swindon’s streets safer
* Faster, better treatment at Swindon’s hospital
* Higher standards in Swindon schools
* Swindon’s environment protected and improved

No pledge to introduce a compulsory ID card and National Identity Register. So the fact that she is my MP can hardly be construed as public endorsement of the ID card bill – it would be more credible to claim that the reason she is my MP is because too many people in Swindon could not face the prospect of Michael Howard as Prime Minister.

Back to the question I asked: “Why [do] you, Anne Snelgrove, my (alleged) representative in Parliament, think it [the ID card bill] is a good idea?”

And her reply: “I am for them for the reasons described in my previous correspondence.”

And her reprimand: “I see no point in continuing this correspondence if you refuse to accept my explanations.”

Ooooh! Naughty constituent! Refusing to accept my MP’s explanations! Hang on a minute, what explanations? Described where in previous correspondence, exactly?

Anne Snelgrove’s correspondence with me consists in its entirety of the three letters sent in reply to my three e-mails, each of which is reproduced in full within the text above. Nowhere does it explain why she, personally, thinks the ID card scheme is a good idea. There are no previously described reasons to refer to, no explanations for me to refuse to accept, and absolutely no cause for treating a constituent with such contempt.

Although I had sent some fairly angry e-mails to my previous (also Labour) MP Julia Drown, particularly on subjects relating to the “war on terror”, and was frequently annoyed at her loyalty to her party over her duty of representing her constituents, she was always polite and civilised in her letters. She would often forward my messages to the relevant government department, later faithfully sending their responses, or responses to similar communications from other MPs’ constituents, back to me.

Anne Snelgrove, by contrast, appears to consider me to be a mere nuisance, and does not even want to answer my questions. Having related this tale verbally to others who have corresponded with both her and Julia Drown, I find that I am not alone in forming this opinion about her.

Less than a year into the job, Anne Snelgrove already has a record of non-communicativeness.

In the run-up to the 2005 General Election, Swindon Stop the War Coalition sent a questionnaire to every candidate in the North and South Swindon constituencies, with questions such as “Do you believe the invasion of Iraq was legal?” and “Do you think the USA & Britain have the right to decide who can & can't have weapons of mass destruction?”. Anne Snelgrove was one of those who chose not to reply. See

Following the introduction of section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act, and the subsequent high court ruling that Brian Haw’s Parliament Square peace camp (which this section of the act was intended to outlaw) was not covered by the Act, Anne Snelgrove was a member of the committee tasked with scrutinising the statutory instrument defining the boundaries of the no-protest zone around parliament. It seems she had nothing to contribute to the debate, but she voted to approve the no-protest zone anyway. You can read the transcript of the committee meeting on Hansard at

Anne Snelgrove has yet to vote against the government line in Parliament:

Related stories in local and independent media

* Adver: Former Swindon MP Lord Stoddart compares the national identity register to policies from Nazi Germany:
* Adver: Open letter to MP on subject of ID cards:
* Adver: I objected! :
* Adver: I got a reply:
* Adver: ID card tricks (are they voluntary or not?):
* Western Daily Press: Article by Lynda of Swindon no2id:
* SchNews: Mistaken Identity:
* Indymedia: Swindon Borough Council say no2id – report from the debate:
* Adver coverage of the council debate:
* Adver: Government figures for identity fraud called into doubt:
* Adver: Lords amendments to ID card bill rejected by commons:
* Western Daily Press: Mum’s prison pledge to beat sinister cards:

North Wilts council are being invited to say no2id on Tuesday.

North Wilts Council will challenge the Government’s plan to impose the use of ID Cards for access to local services.
A motion before Council on Tuesday Feb 21st will ask councillors to reject the requirement of costly interfaces to be borne by local taxpayers.
The ID card Bill is currently waiting for the House of Lord’s reaction to the government’s proposal to link ID Cards to passports, thus creating compulsion to participate in a meta data-base (The National Identity Register) which sits behind the ID Card.
Home office estimates for the cost of implementing ID Cards do not include the costs of linking to local government systems, which local taxpayers would have to cover.

Lynda Warren of civil liberty group NO2ID said,’ The North Wilts Council motion is another signal to the government to halt this dreadful Bill. People of integrity are now taking a stand against this dangerous Bill; this is not a matter of party politics, this is a matter of freedom and liberty. The government’s proposal includes registering and numbering every citizen of this country with huge cost and no benefit. It will not deter terrorists, it will not reduce identity fraud, it will cost us dear and if this law is enacted, we will never re-gain this freedom. I am not a number, nor it seems are the North Wilts Councillors who are standing forward and putting their name to this Motion, I applaud their principles.’

The Swindon no2id group is single-issue and non-partisan, and can be found at or Swindon at no2id dot net.



Display the following 2 comments

  1. Defy ID — Gulliver
  2. You tell'm Love — Julie