Want a politician's ear? E-mail him

My Technology: Paddy Ashdown

I use my e-mail three or four times a day, as there are about 500 to 600 people in the Lib Dems on e-mail, as well as most of our MPs. We have two e-mail numbers; one through which staff can contact me, and another for the general public to make use of.

I do a lot of communication with key people, and certainly with people in my office, using e-mail. My secretary finds it easier to work with and I am probably easier to work with this way as well. For instance, when I am away we send documents backwards and forwards.

I began to use e-mail 10 years ago when it was in its infancy and we ran my leadership campaign on e-mail. And recently we set up the Liberal Democrat conference system.

I have always believed politics is about communication, and e-mail is an additional means to communicate. I would find it virtually impossible to meet the demands and commitments of my role as an MP without e-mail: I'd probably have to sleep less! I can use it anywhere at any time, and it's a much more efficient means of communication than the telephone.

And - because members of the Liberal Democrats have access to a common conferencing system - it enables me to participate in party-wide discussions, revise speeches or draft letters - whether I'm in Aberdeen or Albania.

I can attach my mobile phone and communicate with staff and colleagues via e-mail from a bus or train as easily as from my office. I use a palmtop (an HP200LX), which travels with me everywhere I go, carrying it in my pocket, and it's used on a daily basis.

"It's a fabulous machine; the disadvantage is it's MS-DOS, not Windows- capable. I was brought up on MS-DOS, however, and I prefer using it anyway.

"It carries my e-mail, my fax machine, and it has all my personal databases; spreadsheet programmes; my election-fighting programme; an election package which lets me put in the opinion polls and get a readout; a French translator, and all the maps of Britain and France.

"It's an absolutely magnificent machine, and I couldn't do without it. I also have a Compaq laptop which enables me to access the Internet. And a pager. So I am pretty well contactable anywhere.

Certainly, the Liberal Democrats were the first political party to really use this technology. And the Liberal Democrats were the first to use such technology in a general election. I acted as a consultant to the initial election program which enables the details of the electoral roll to be placed online.

Personally, I have had a fascination with technology since getting my first computer back in 1980. These days, computers play a vital role in every field of working life.

"I have been saying for more than a decade that technology will change literally everything about our lives - technology will change the way that we run our work; technology will change the way that we do business; and technology will change all the inter-relationships of our society.

Paddy Ashdown's e-mail address is: paddyashdown@cix

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