The BBC has picked up on yesterday’s mini-row about the curse of “Reply All”.  What started the problem was an email from Mark Pritchard MP asking, what he no doubt thought was an innocuous question, about who might be interested in joining a new All-Party Group on Cyber-Security.  He had sent it to all MPs and Peers on the Parliamentary email system.  This in itself is not uncommon.

Derek Wyatt MP then responded to say – I paraphrase – that, as one of the handful of Parliamentarians interested in and knowledgeable about cyber issues, he  hadn’t known that Mark Pritchard was also concerned about such matters, that there were a number of other All-Party Groups in existence that looked at cyber questions and, given the extraordinary number of All-Party Groups in general, was an additional one really necessary.  Perhaps in an effort to stifle the fledgling prior to birth he pressed the “Reply All” button and sent his comment to all MPs and Peers.

This then prompted, first, a cascade of MPs and Peers agreeing with him that there were far too many All-Party Groups (all sent using “ReplyAll”) and, second, a torrent of MPs and Peers complaining about the excessive use of the “Reply All” button (some of them were quite intemperate in tone, typed in capitals and used red ink) but also – no doubt to emphasise how irritating it was – sent “Reply All”.

There are, of course, two issues here.

The first is why for so many people is it their default reaction when responding to something to tell an entire mailing list that unfortunately they cannot attend a particular meeting or whatever it might be.  No doubt, it is assumed that their presence or otherwise is so crucial that the response of others will be determined by what they say.   This is sheer arrogance.  If they are that self-important, there are other outlets – they could take up blogging, for example.

Parliamentarians are not, in fact, the worst offenders.  I find members of the London Assembly and their staff are even more profligate with the “Reply All” button.

The second issue is the extraordinary number of All-Party Groups these days.  If you want to count them, look here.  There are so many that it is often impossible for them to find a room, however small, in the Parliamentary Estate for a meeting.  Often there are so many competing Groups meeting simultaneously that most of them are lucky to get more than two or three Parliamentarians even to look in for a few minutes.

And just for the record I responded to Mark Pritchard saying this was a topic I was interested in and in which over the last few years I had been actively involved.  I didn’t press “Reply All” – my reply was just to him – but I also said I had some sympathy with the view that the issue could be pursued ender the umbrella of one of the existing groups.

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