MPs on Twitter

Did you ever make a chance remark that plants a seed of an idea which then grabs hold of you and refuses to let you go until you’ve done something about it?

That happened to me on Sunday. I was cleaning up some broken feeds on Planet Westminster when I tweeted:

Cleaning up some broken feeds on Planet Westminster ( Interesting how many MPs’ blogs have vanished since the election.

And a couple of minutes later I added:

Someone should monitor the numbers of MPs actively blogging and tweeting over time. Maybe that should be me.

And that was it. I realised that I’d get no rest until I’d started work on the project.

Yesterday I published a graph of the number of MPs on Twitter over time. It’s only the first step. I want to start tracking how active they are and how well they interact with other Twitter users. Expect more graphs to appear on that page over the coming weeks.

I have to thank the nice people over at TweetMinster. They are doing all the hard work of actually tracking the MPs on Twitter. All I’m doing is processing their list.

A few caveats. Currently the graph is generated manually, so it won’t be kept up to date automatically. Also it just works from the date that people on the list joined Twitter. It doesn’t handle people leaving Twitter – they’ll just come off the list and all of their data will vanish from the graph. So it doesn’t track, things like Nadine Dorries’ two (or is it three) flirtations with Twitter.

You should also note that I also don’t handle people joining Twitter before they become an MP. For example, the first MP to join Twitter was Julian Huppert on 2nd May 2007. But he didn’t become an MP until three years later.

So take it all with a pince of salt, But I think it’s an interesting start. Let me know what you think. And feel free to suggest other useful graphs that I could create.

And, yes, I’ll get round to doing blogs too at some point.


Dorries Round-Up

Update (28th October): I’ve just been shown The Nardinia Chronicles, a new blog with a lot of detail about Dorries’ idiocy.

A round-up of all of the blog posts that have been made about Nadine Dorries since she was cleared by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards last Thursday. If anything is missing then please let me know.

And for more historical context on this, here’s humphreycushion‘s similar list of blog posts that followed Dorries’ recent disablist comments.


NHS Money Wasted on Homeopathy

Don’t have time to go into the detail that it deserves, but the House of Commons science and technology committee has published the results of its evidence check on homeopathy. The results won’t, of course, come as any surprise to anyone who has been following the debate. But I have to admit to be impressed by the lack of ambiguity in their conclusions. This is paragraph 157:

By providing homeopathy on the NHS and allowing MHRA licensing of products which subsequently appear on pharmacy shelves, the Government runs the risk of endorsing homeopathy as an efficacious system of medicine. To maintain patient trust, choice and safety, the Government should not endorse the use of placebo treatments, including homeopathy. Homeopathy should not be funded on the NHS and the MHRA should stop licensing homeopathic products.

Absolutely no equivocation there.

So what’s the next step? When to the homeopathic “hospitals” get closed down? When does the NHS get that money back for real medicine?

Update: The Woo-mongers in the House of Commons don’t plan to take this laying down. They’ve proposed an Early Day Motion criticising the committee’s report. Of course, only MPs with no grasp of science will be signing it. If your MP is on this list, then I suggest a strongly worded email might be in order.


42 Days is Dead

It’s a strange world when you have to rely on the House of Lords to throw out ridiculous legislation from a Labour government. But that’s exactly what happened yesterday as the Lords voted against the government’s proposals for 42-day detention of suspected terrorists. Pretty much everyone in the country now agrees that the proposals were draconian and unnecessary. Well, with a couple of notable exceptions. Firstly the Home Secretary has drawn up a single clause Bill which she will present to Parliament should the opportunity ever arise.

And secondly, the Sun is pretty angry about it this morning. I picked up a discarded copy on the tube this morning (discarded by a BBC employee getting off at White City) and was able to enjoy the full force of Rebekah Wade’s ire in today’s The Sun Says. For those of you who can’t bring yourself to visit their web site, I reproduce it in full below.

A GOLDEN opportunity to make Britain safer from terrorists has been shamefully

The House of Lords has scuppered a Bill that might have saved many lives.

How al-Qaeda must be revelling in the knowledge that Britain is more concerned
about possible infringements of civil liberties than of taking the war on
terror to them.

Holding terrorism suspects for 42 days would be a vital tool for the security
services as they unravel criminal conspiracies of unprecedented complexity.

Its opponents argue that the country’s against it. Nonsense. More than 100,000
Sun readers voiced their support in 2005 — when Tony Blair wanted 90
, not just 42.

David Cameron’s Tory MPs, against their natural instincts, fought any
detention beyond 28 days simply for opposition’s sake. There were plenty in
their ranks who secretly backed 42 days.

Tory Lord Tebbit, himself a victim of terrorists, rightly asked yesterday what
his party will do if they win power and find they need 42 days. How will
they possibly argue for it?

As he also pointed out, the injustice of holding an innocent person for six
weeks can be rectified. The injustice meted out to an innocent person
murdered by terrorists cannot.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith will now have to force through emergency 42-day
legislation the next time a major suspect is held.

And the Tories will have to back her – they cannot risk sabotaging a case
for political advantage.

Anything that makes the Sun as angry as that has just got to be a good thing.


Rationalism 4 – Superstition 0

Over the last two days, as part of the debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, Parliament has had four votes[1] where the forces of Medievalism tried to impose the views of their imaginary friends to prevent the advance of science.

As you’ll have seen in the news, they lost on all four counts. This is fantastic news. I really think that we might be seeing the power of Bronze Age myths starting to fade away in the UK. It’s laughable, of course, that anyone could even consider debating in the House of Commons on the basis of fairy stories. But it’s heartening to know that rationalism might be starting to break out.

Of course, the objections to the Bill weren’t all religious in nature. During the abortion debate there was plenty of mention of a poll which says that 75% of women want a reduction to the 24-week limit on abortions. Of course the poll was conducted on behalf of the Christian Institute (so maybe I was wrong and there wasn’t any non-religious objections). And given that this is a debate on a medical topic, shouldn’t we give more credence to the views of the medical profession, rather than the general population?

Well, apparently the majority of MPs agree with me. They did listen to the medical advice and didn’t lower the limit. Let’s hear it for rational debate and the defeat of superstition.

I’m looking forward to looking at the front pages of our more reactionary press this morning. I bet they’ll be livid. The BBC was a little disappointing. Their lead story (at least on  the 7am bulletin I saw) was a preview of some football match that is taking place tonight.

A final word from Health Minister Dawn Primarolo, talking about Nadine Dorries contributions to the debate: “She has asserted many things as fact which are not this evening.”

[1] Ok, actually more than four as there were a few amendments to the section on abortion.


How Powerful is Religion?

Today’s vote on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is going to be an interesting test of the power of religion in 21st century Britain. As far as I can see, there are no reasons to object to the bill that don’t have their basis in Bronze Age myths.

Gordon Brown has been really rather unimpressive since he took over as Prime Minister but I was really impressed by his defence of the Bill in yesterday’s Observer. This is a man who is obviously passion about defending something that he believes in strongly.

Should scientists be given the legal framework they say they need to
pursue new cures and treatments through stem cell research or will we
turn our back on these potential advances?

Should children who
face death or critical illness find new hope in scientific advances
that would allow their new brother or sister to be not just a blessing
to their family, but also a saviour sibling to them? And should people
be able to approach IVF clinics without fear of discrimination on the
grounds of their sexual orientation?

My answer to all those questions is an unequivocal yes.

I believe that he is absolutely right. Stem cell research is a vital tool that enables us to make advances in the way that we treat many diseases. To turn our back on these advances because of how a shaman interprets texts that are hundreds of years old would be irresponsible lunacy.

Religion has had a strong hold on British society for too long. It’s time we said that enough is enough and stood up for a secular society which makes decisions based on rational thought, not on the capricious whims of an imaginary friend. I really hope that parliament sees sense today and votes for rationalism over medieval superstition.

Update: Bid to ban hybrid embryos fails

An MP’s attempt to outlaw the creation of hybrid human-animal embryos has been defeated by 336 votes to 176.

An excellent start. More votes follow over the next couple of days.


No More Faith Schools

This all comes a as a bit of a surprise. But a very welcome one.

The Government has decided against backing more faith schools, the Children, Schools and Families Secretary, Ed Balls, told MPs.

In what is being seen as one of the most significant policy shifts of the post-Tony Blair era in education, he told a Commons select committee:

“It is not the policy of the Government nor my department to expand the number of faith schools. We’re not leading a drive for more faith schools.”

The report also includes this interesting titbit:

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment at the University of Buckingham, said it had been wrong to argue that church-school pupils did better in exams because of a religious ethos. It was because they could be more selective on admissions, he said.

I can’t find a transcript of the meeting (TheyWorkforYou doesn’t seem to cover select committees) but the minutes will probably appear here at some point.

What with this and the potential abolition of the blasphemy laws, it seems there’s an outbreak of sanity in the government.

Update: It seems that TheyWorkForYou do, in fact, have plans to cover select committees. But they’ve been hampered by lack of funds. So why not pop over to MySociety (the people behind TheyWorkForYou) and bung them a bit of cash. I’m going to sign up for a tenner a month.


Blasphemy Update

The debate on the amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill which would repeal the UK’s law against blasphemy took place yesterday. You can read the full debate online or summaries from various news sources.

Basically, following a half hour or so of debate the Justice Minister, Maria Eagle, said that the government had “every sympathy for the case for formal abolition” and that, subject to a “short and sharp” consultation with the Anglican church, they intended to table their own abolition amendment. On the basis of this, Dr Harris withdrew his amendment.

I call that a pretty good result.


Repealing the Blasphemy Laws

Tomorrow in Parliament, Dr Evan Harris MP will introduce an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill which will seek to repeal the outdated and ridiculous UK blasphemy laws.

To best explain why this is necessary I can only quote the letter that appears in today’s Telegraph:

Sir – In the light of the widespread outrage at the conviction of the British teacher for blasphemy in Sudan over the name of a teddy bear is it not time to repeal our own blasphemy law?

The ancient common law of blasphemous libel purports to protect beliefs rather than people or communities. Most religious commentators are of the view that the Almighty does not need the “protection” of such a law.

We are representatives of religious, secular, legal and artistic opinion in this country and share the view that the blasphemy offence serves no useful purpose. Yet it allows partisan organisations or well-funded individuals to try to censor broadcasters or intimidate small theatres, print media or publishers.

Far from protecting public order – for which other laws are more suited – it damages social cohesion.

It is discriminatory in that it only covers attacks on Christianity and Church of England tenets and thus engenders an expectation among other religions that their sensibilities should also be protected by the criminal law (as with the attempt to charge Salman Rushdie) and a sense of grievance among minority religions that they do not benefit from their own version of such a law.

As the Law Commission acknowledged in 1985, when it recommended repeal, it is uncertain in scope, but lack of intention is no defence, and the law is unlimited in penalty.

This, together with its chilling effect on free expression and its discriminatory impact, leaves it in clear breach of human rights law. In the end, no one is likely to be convicted under it.

The Church of England no longer opposes its abolition on principle and the Government has given no principled reason to defend its retention.

We call on MPs to support the amendment proposed by Evan Harris, Frank Dobson and David Wilshire tomorrow to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill and on the Government – which rightly criticises countries like Sudan for their blasphemy laws – to give it a fair wind.

Philip Pullman, Rt Rev Lord Harries of Pentregarth, Ricky Gervais, Nicholas Hytner, Shami Chakrabarti, Professor Richard Dawkins, Rt Rev Lord Carey of Clifton, Professor A.C. Grayling, Sir Jonathan Miller, David Starkey, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, Stewart Lee, Michael Cashman, Joan Smith, Lady D’Souza, Peter Tatchell, Lisa Appignanesi, Hanif Kureishi, Lord Desai, Roger Smith and Hari Kunzru

If you agree that this law should be repealed, then please use WriteToThem to ask your MP to support this amendment.


Patricia Hewitt

I’ve seen some cheeky 419 mail in my time, but this one (which arrived over the weekend) is the first that claims to be from a British MP and former minister.

Date: Sat, 1 Sep 2007 5:06:03 +1000 [31/08/07 20:06:03 BST]
From: “” <>
Subject: Patricia Hewitt MP

Dear Friend,

I got your contact after a search for a person with whom I can entrust
with a charitable projects.

I am Patricia Hewitt, the last Secretary of State for Health here in UK
before the present one Alan Johnston. I like to introduce a project
that will get to do with charity in your country and any neighbouring
country around you: Please let me know what your response will be to an
offer to receive charity investment funds in cash if you will understand
the fact that I have my reputation and intergrity to protect as the
last Secretary of State for Health here in UK.

1. The said fund amounts to Seventeen Million Five Hundred Thousand Dollars

2. The said fund is in cash and will be make available to you in same

3.The fund is intended to be invested into any charity organisation
through your agency in the said purposes within your country.

4. This transaction will result to you being paid a commission of 30%
off the investment capital and the balance destributed to charity
organisations of your choice or reinvested and the net income used for
rehabilitating charity organisation in and around your country through your
agency annually for the period of some time at least five years or

5.You must understand that I desire absolute confidentiality and
professionalism in the handling of this project and as a result of that and
for security reasons to my reputation as the former Secretary of State for Health
under her excellency Queen Elizabeth, I will not be able to always
communicate with you but my lawyer will take up the processing on my behalf
and get the funds processed and released to you without any delay.

I’m a person that has a very big heart for the less priviledge people
which is one of my top priority which is to positively uses my office to
affect the life of so many people which is why I am doing this. I am
not in any way going to benefit from this transaction financially but I
will be very happy if you will be sincere with me to handle this
project with utmost sincerity and confidentiality and use the funds for the
purpose which I have above explained to you.

Please respond urgently if you are interested so I can give to you the
details of my lawyer and commence the transaction properly and please
if you know you are not ready and trust worthy person, please don’t
reply this message.

You can check more about me out at but the website is presently
under mentainace due to the high rate of fraudulent activities but you
can also check more about me out and and please do not try
to contact me through any of my personal information you may lay your
hand on the internet because all my phones are connected to the British
House of Parliament data base and if the British government get to know
about this funds, our effort to get the funds secured for the purpose
of charitable investment plans will be jeopardise. But you can call me
on any of my number you can get on the internet for normal greetings and
do not try to introduce yourself or discuss this transaction but just
call to make sure I’m trully what I tell you I am for you to be sure
that this transaction is free from scamers.

Please send your response to this E-mail:


Patricia Hewitt MP,
former Secretary of State for Health
233 Owen Walk,
London SE37 88AQ