The majority of the UK population do not know the name of their MP1…
Let alone how they voted on key issues, or what they are saying in Parliament.
And yet, MPs are our representatives, working on our behalf to bring about changes that should benefit us all.
If we don’t pay attention to that process, the chances are that it won’t reflect our needs. Parliament becomes a service that answers to the small percentage that is politically engaged, and not to the rest of society.
Once there’s a perception that you have to be clever to understand Parliament, that it’s boring, archaic or ‘not for the likes of me’, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
We built TheyWorkForYou to show that the workings of the UK’s Parliaments can be accessible for everyone. Don’t know the name of your MP? Not a problem: just enter your postcode and we show you who represents your constituency.
Not only that, but we lay out how he or she has voted on a range of important issues, from nuclear weapons to bankers’ bonuses, all in plain English.
If you don’t like what you see, TheyWorkForYou directs you to another of our sites, WriteToThem, where you can drop your MP a line and let them know exactly how you feel — because after all, just like the name says, they work for you.
Each day that Parliament is in session, TheyWorkForYou publishes Hansard, the record of every word spoken during debates.
So does the official UK Parliament website, but there are some crucial differences between their version and ours.
On TheyWorkForYou, each speaker’s contribution is presented along with a picture of their face, as well as their name, party and position. Every speech has its own individual permalink, so it can be shared with others.
Another important difference is that on TheyWorkForYou, the whole of Hansard is searchable. As well as providing a way to keep up to date with what’s going on right now in Parliament, it’s also a historic resource that dates back to the 1930s.
You don’t even have to visit the site to stay updated. TheyWorkForYou can send you email alerts whenever a specific MP speaks, or your chosen topic is mentioned in Parliament, and notify you about upcoming debates or topics.
Set up your own Parliamentary Monitoring website with our software Find out more
TheyWorkForYou covers three out of the four UK Parliaments (and we hope to add the Welsh Assembly when we have the resources to do so).
It’s visited by 150,000 people in a typical month, and that figure more than doubles in the run-up to a general election, when people are keen to find out their MP’s track record.
It also sends out hundreds of thousands of alert emails every day, keeping people, organisations and charities informed on the topics they care most about.
Need a list of every MP, or perhaps you’d like to analyse the text of parliamentary debates? TheyWorkForYou’s content is easy for others to use, too, thanks to the API and RSS feeds. All sorts of web tools, national newspapers and campaigns use the data about MPs.
Better than parliament.uk?
We’ve been told anecdotally that many Parliament employees and even MPs themselves use TheyWorkForYou because it’s easier to locate what they need on there than it is via the official record.
Certainly, many MPs’ websites display their own Parliamentary activity, taken from TheyWorkForYou rather than the official website…
The code that underlies TheyWorkForYou is open source, meaning that anyone can pick it up and use it for their own projects — but it is complex, and contains many features specific to the UK Parliament.
In order to make it easier to run a similar parliamentary monitoring site anywhere in the world, we created a number of tools, including Pombola, a much more adaptable codebase that provides all the same features as TheyWorkForYou (plus a few more), and SayIt, code for publishing parliamentary transcripts.
Our collection of structured data about every politician in the world, EveryPolitician, saves people from having to gather that information themselves when setting up a new parliamentary monitoring site, and YourNextRepresentative is an invaluable resource for any country facing an impending election.
Back here in the UK, we continue to refine TheyWorkForYou, guided by our own research into its impact, by our users’ feedback, and by learning from those running parliamentary monitoring sites in other countries.
Our main focus right now is to ensure that TheyWorkForYou reaches all demographics. Our aim is to make Parliament accessible to all, so it’s especially important that we do our best to attract people who would never before have considered reading Hansard, or checking their MP’s voting record.
If you’d like to find out how we’re doing with that, follow the mySociety blog or keep an eye on our Research findings.
Set up your own Parliamentary Monitoring website with our help Find out more
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1 Hansard Society Audit of Public Engagement 2013 (PDF)
Main image: Copyright UK Parliament