It now seems that ConservativeHome isn’t alone in our worries about Downing Street’s harvesting of emails gained via its petitions system. Shadow Transport Secretary Chris Grayling MP has now written to Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell registering his concerns and seeking reassurances about the Government’s potential to exploit the emails. Mr Grayling has just emailed me his letter and it’s pasted below. One specific issue that Mr Grayling doesn’t raise is the need for Downing Street’s communication with petitioners to be narrowly focused on the issues raised and not range liberally on to related topics of government communication. I’ve had a lot of media interest in this whole subject. The Guardian, BBC1’s One’o’clock News, the BBC World Service and France’s Liberation have all been on the phone this morning.
20th Feb 2007
Dear Sir Gus
I am writing to raise with you as a matter of urgency the rules that will be applied to the Government and the Labour Party’s use of the email database that is being built up as a result of the use of e-petitions on the Downing Street website.
Clearly the use of this database in a way that promotes Government policy would give the Labour Party a substantial political advantage, particularly if further use is made of it by Ministers much closer to the potential date of a General Election. This has become particularly true given the level of response to the petition on road pricing.
Could I please ask you to address a number of specific points?
What, in detail, are the Government’s rights of exploitation of the database?
What steps have you taken to ensure that the database remains under the control of the Cabinet Office and that it cannot be transferred officially or unofficially to the Labour Party for future use?
Will the current Prime Minister’s successor be able to use the database, or will usage be limited to the Prime Minister under whose administration the petitions were launched?
It is clearly essential that taxpayers’ money is not used in a way that provides any political party with an electoral advantage, and that matters like this are handled in a way that is fair. If the Government is able to use the database to promote its policies on a future occasion, will other political parties be permitted similar access to the database?
I look forward to your early reply.