Lessons learned about writing after sending letters of protest to the government.

I sent two letters of protest a couple of weeks ago, one to the chancellor, the other to my MP.  You may remember in a previous post I drew your attention to some huge cuts being proposed for Adult Education.

This week I received replies.

Spotlight on lemons

Spotlight on lemons, by addictioncam@gmail.com

I hadn’t expected either recipient to do an about turn, or ask me for more ideas about how Adult Education classes work on all levels.  I hoped to get a thank you: a recognition that I’d felt strongly enough to spend time thinking through some arguments.

My first reply came from The Department for Business Innovation and Skills.  It began:

…the chancellor receives a large amount of correspondence every day and is unable to respond to each one personally. As Further Education (FE) falls within the policy area of this Department, your correspondence has been passed to this Department and on this occasion I have been asked to reply…

My correspondent, Richard O… then proceeded to quote figures and facts regarding government policy on apprenticeships, traineeships and English and Maths.  All of which are undeniably important, but have no connection with the points I made in my letter.

My MP’s reply arrived a day later:

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘I do agree that Adult Education is very valuable. ‘

It was a good start.  If only he hadn’t gone on to say, ‘and is not only vital for assisting people make progress into work, but also adapt to changing job contexts.’

The truth is, that he wasn’t agreeing with me.  He was using a phrase from my letter as a spring-board for spouting party-line.  And, since I had no opportunity to interrupt, I got harangued for a further four paragraphs.

I’ve been trying to put a positive slant on my frustration with these answers.  What I’m most aware of is feeling some fellowship with the political journalists who regularly and patiently take part in this kind of jousting.

Did either man bother to read my letter?  It’s impossible to guess.  Somewhere, I assume, someone has added another mark to a list that keeps the score on protest letters received, and that, after all, was why I wrote it.  So despite my irritation I do still feel that we should sit down and write a letter.

Looking at this from a writerly point-of-view though, brings me to a more positive frame of mind. I’m reminded of two things.

Firstly, never get on a soap box to tell a story.  Writing that makes overt political points is boring, unless the reader happens to already share the writer’s views.  No doubt my letter was as tedious to the recipients as these two directives were to me.

Secondly, when writing dialogue, remember that characters don’t always respond directly to what has been said.  Conversations often happen at cross-purposes.  Such circumstances illuminate character and can be amusing.

The only decision I’m left with now is whether, having been handed two lemons, I make a cake or a cocktail…

lemon cook book

prohibition-cocktail-guide-1920s-1353946008_b

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6 thoughts on “Lessons learned about writing after sending letters of protest to the government.

  1. Hi
    When I was a working civil servant and a trade unionist I was told that ten letters of complaint made MP’s sit up and take notice. There are some topics I cannot believe don’t get that many letters. But then I realise that it is far easier not to do anything. So good on you. I believe there is someone making a little gate and your letter adds to the bars. If enough people complain then it may garner more than a few political words.

    And, of course, you’re right. The story is everything, the soapbox nothing.

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  2. I take my hat off to you for writing your letters about Adult Education which is an absolute necessity, especially for people who only come later to understand its value. I fear an ill educated population – which Britain is to some extent. There are those among us who don’t speak English and have no intention of learning the language. What are we to do about these people? There are those who deprecate the return of Grammar Schools; I don’t agree as I received a great education from my grammar school. You reply ‘but you had an unfair advantage.’ Did I? I worked for it. Life is grossly unfair; peoples’ minds work on many different levels. Should we attempt to rise to the Highest Common Factor or sink to the Lowest Common Multiple?

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    • Thanks Sue. The idea that education stops at some point, or that we measure it only by means of occupations seems to me like such a horrible possibility at the moment, that I had to add my protest.
      As to being given advantages, good for you. I too was privileged, because I was given a second chance with education as an adult.
      I hope those kinds of advantage are what we all want: I do believe we should want them, if we are going to achieve our individual ‘highest common factors’ and participate in an integrated, understanding and functionable society.

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  3. Like you, I do think letters of protest matter, although I don’t write nearly enough of them and I am glad you stood up for adult education. it deserves championing, although I have left it this year, weary of the form filling and boxes that have to be ticked. It’s not that I want to avoid being measured and assessed – on the contrary when I was an associate university lecturer I stood up at a staff meeting and complained that no one was interested in what I was doing in my classroom. My students were paying a helluva lot of money for something that had no quality control…In adult education they do care, but various governments have forced them down a vocational route to such an extent that creative life-enhancing subjects are squeezed into a straitjacket that serves no one….

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    • Yes, that’s it exactly.
      I know we have to have a balanced economy, but ‘creative life-enhancing subjects’ explains the problem that bureaucratic minds seem unable to quantify. If only we could find a statistic to express the benefits of life-long-learning…preferably without creating too many boxes to be ticked.

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