In a February 24 address to the House of Commons, MPs criticised a study conducted by King’s College London (KCL) and London School of Economics (LSE) professors involving “over 1,000 spoof emails” sent to parliamentary staffers.
The emails in question were reportedly sent to MPs from falsified constituents and “concerned financial support during the coronavirus lockdown”. Each email ended with an identical phrase: “I’d like to know what you and the Conservative party are going to do to get us through this crisis in the best possible way.” According to The Guardian, MP staffers uncovered the link between each email after requesting senders’ addresses, as is standard practice, and never receiving replies.
MPs present in the House were critical of the study, with Labour MP Navendu Mishra telling The Guardian this issue comes at a time “when staff in all MPs’ offices are working so hard to process record levels of correspondence”. In a speech given on the day, Conservative MP and Deputy Speaker Eleanor Lang told fellow MPs: “At a time like this, it is hard to see how any responsible researcher could have thought that sending over 1000 spoof emails adding to this workload was a good idea; or how any responsible ethics committee could have improved it, or indeed how any responsible body could have decided to fund it”. She concluded by stating the Speaker of the House would be “writing directly to those involved”.
It’s hard to see how any responsible researcher could’ve thought that sending over 1,000 spoof emails, adding to this workload, was a good idea; how any responsible ethics committee could’ve approved it; or indeed how any responsible body could’ve decided to fund it. DISGRACEFUL! pic.twitter.com/5MrsrdyQeq
— Dame Eleanor Laing 🤲😷↔️ (@eleanor4epping) February 24, 2021
King’s Professor Rosie Campbell defended the project on Medium, writing: “The question of MPs’ responsiveness to their constituents is clearly a matter of public interest, and one that warrants research […] It was absolutely not our intention to take up MPs’ and their staff’s time unnecessarily.”
Referencing similar studies in Germany and the Netherlands, Professor Campbell told The Guardian: “We received the funding before the pandemic and deliberated as to whether we should go ahead. We concluded that the issues we were studying were still relevant during the pandemic and that the basic emails without follow-up were not too burdensome. We sincerely apologise if this is not your view.”
The GMB Union branch representing parliamentary staffers has condemned the study, alongside the hashtag #ApologiseKCL. In a retweet shortly thereafter, the King’s College London Labour Society expressed “Complete solidarity with @GMB_MPs_Staff. MP’s staff work incredibly hard and in tough circumstances to fight for their constituents. This isn’t okay. #ApologiseKCL“
Complete solidarity with @GMB_MPs_Staff.
MP’s staff work incredibly hard and in tough circumstances to fight for their constituents.
— King’s College London Labour (@KCLLabour) February 24, 2021
LSE has told the Guardian it was “not directly involved in the research”, while KCL administration has yet to comment on the emails’ authenticity or the study itself. Roar will continue to update you as the situation develops.