In the last few weeks I’ve been contacted by a couple of politicians/advisors wanting to talk policy issues. While in the past the site has been cited as a model for web based info (see my the power of info blog) it’s interesting to see things are starting to push on.
What I’m pleased about is the requests are from more than one party, and actually that makes me feel more comfortable answering them.
- Lib Dems.
The Lib Dems have picked up on my blogs (e.g. Mental Health & Debt) and forum discussions about mental health and money issues.
I must admit this is the one I’m most excited about. As I wrote in that blog, getting any coverage of this issue is difficult, so it’s great to see someone as high profile in the political world as party leader Nick Clegg MP (who this is for) taking an interest in what is sadly often seen as an unsexy issue.
I’ve agreed to contact a few posters to ask if they’d be willing to talk to his advisors about their experiences and I’m due a phone chat (as his speech is urgent) to talk through my perspective on some of the challenges and issues.
The Conservative policy unit has been in contact to talk about the site, communicating money and especially debt issues, and what can be done about such things.
I’m due to go and have a chat about it with them in a couple of weeks time. I see this as a chance to push the financial education agenda; as I’ve often said before, we’re a nation that educates our young into debt when they go to university but never about debts. For me, compulsory financial education in schools is a must.
I’ve had no contact from anyone on the political side of the Labour party (barring a few MPs who are site users, in that capacity).
Yet over the past few years I’ve done some work with government departments on projects I’m passionate about; these include the parents guide to student finance and more recently childcare tax credits. I’m currently chatting about doing something with the Department of Health about EHIC cards in January.
Government departments commonly use TV people as spokespeople for various messages. The usual format involves doing a day of interviews for local radio stations around the country talking through the issues. This usually affords them much greater coverage than they’d get otherwise.
However, I do these slightly differently to the norm, as these days I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford to waive the fee, or donate it to the MSE Charity. I do that because then I can ensure that in the contract it effectively says they get me for a morning – but they don’t get to tell me what to say – so I can be critical if needed.
Obviously, as part of this we meet beforehand and I discuss my viewpoint (generally they know anyway which is why they come to me, as with EHIC they’ve heard me saying I think everyone should get one), just in case there’s an issue and therefore they can back out if needed. Though thankfully that’s not happened yet.
Normally this works well, as it means we’re working together on something positive, but pros and cons are given so people can make an informed choice. It’s also meant that I’ve been able to do some bigger publications like the student finance PDF guide.
It’s my hope that doing these things will be of general benefit for the specific issues, but also that it’ll open doors the other way round.
I was always hideously disappointed during the bank charges campaign at how most politicians studiously avoided it. I’m not saying they had to take sides, but it was the biggest consumer revolution since the council tax riots, and yet you hardly ever heard an MP even mention it.
Perhaps the issues above might help push things forward a bit. I also intend to offer the parties the ability to communicate directly in the forum if they want to.