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Thursday, 24 July 2014

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Constituent ‘fobbed off’ with Cumbrian MP’s cut and paste response

An MP is under fire for responding to constituents letters with “cut and paste” replies which simply repeat his party’s line.

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Rory Stewart: ‘Amazing group of people’

University lecturer Carolyne James said she was shocked when she found a statement online from another politician which was almost a word-for-word copy of the reply she received on the same issue from Rory Stewart.

The Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border this week apologised for the response. But he pointed out that if a matter concerns Government policy, and he agrees with the party line, then he will issue the official party statement.

This case adds fuel to speculation about whether politicians’ statements or responses are their own.

Earlier this year Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Carlisle, Lee Sherriff, was accused of plagiarism after she published a blog in her own name that was written by a national politician.

Mrs James, 47, of Greystoke, said she had contacted Mr Stewart on a number of occasions over the past three years, on issues such as welfare reform, and she initially thought she was corresponding directly with him. She said: “I recently emailed about a different matter. I received a long response and there were some points he raised that I wanted to research further.

“Imagine my surprise when my search took me to a website of another Conservative MP, from Derbyshire, where I found what was his letter in reply to me, virtually word for word.”

She added that she carried out a similar test with one of the other replies and found that again the response was almost a direct copy of a statement from another Conservative MP.

“Suffice to say, on my part, I feel very taken back and rather disheartened,” she said.

“I feel I have been fobbed off with cut and paste letters and that far from any real engagement or debate I have been fed a party line.”

Mr Stewart said that he received hundreds of emails and letters every week – and in some cases providing individual or personal responses was not possible.

He said that in a lot of cases the letters and emails could be identical, particularly if people had signed up to organised campaigns.

“In those cases what we do is send back standard responses,” he said.

But he said that he would send an individual response if someone had written to him about a specific situation which affected them directly.

He added: “I understand that Mrs James is upset and I have written back to her and apologised.

“I don’t think there is any other way of doing it.”

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