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LSE and KCL academics draw controversy over ‘spoof’ emails to MPs for research during pandemic

Academics from LSE and King’s College London (KCL) were criticised in the House of Commons after it emerged they had sent emails to MPs from fictitious constituents during the pandemic.

Academics from LSE and King’s College London (KCL) were criticised in the House of Commons after it emerged they had sent emails to MPs from fictitious constituents during the pandemic.

According to The Guardian, the researchers sent emails that expressed concern over “the long term”, adding they saw people around them “losing jobs or experiencing pay cuts”. Signed off with names that included Paul, Thomas and Maryam, they ended with the sentence “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.”

The issue has drawn condemnation from several politicians, with Labour MP Sarah Owen saying “it is unethical, it is a waste of taxpayers’ money, and it shows a complete lack of understanding of the pressures on our offices’ resources a year into a global pandemic.”, adding that the workload in her office had increased by “over 300%” during the pandemic.

Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, Deputy Speaker Eleanor Laing said “Members and their staff are working flat out to help individuals and businesses in their constituencies who are facing very real and very serious problems. At such a time, it is hard to see how any responsible researcher could have thought that sending more than 1,000 spoof emails that added to this workload was a good idea”. She added that Speaker Lindsay Hoyle was aware of the matter and that he intended to write to those involved.

Professor Rosie Campbell of KCL, who is one of the researchers running the study, said in a statement even though “the question of MPs’ responsiveness to their constituents is clearly a matter of public interest”, their research had potential downsides including “taking up MPs’ and their staff’s time”. She said that they sent “only two short emails” for this reason and they did not follow up on the responses they received.

“We sincerely apologise if we misjudged the imposition this would place on MPs and their staff.”

The LSE academic in question was identified in a letter to KCL from a union representing parliamentary staff as Dr Diane Bolet who used to be a PhD student at LSE before graduating in 2020. She currently works as a Research Associate at the Policy Institute, KCL. The study, titled “The Responsiveness of MPs to Citizen-Initiated Policy Queries”, has yet to be released. Along with Dr Bolet and Pro Campbell, five other academics from universities around Europe are understood to be working on the study.

Responding to a request for a comment from the Guardian, LSE said it was not directly involved in the research. It was not immediately clear whether Dr Bolet, who was supervised by Pro-Director for Research Professor Simon Hix, was involved in the research project during her time at LSE. In response to requests from The Beaver, Dr Bolet said she didn’t want to comment on the situation.

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