David Cameron's promise of transparent politics has been called into question after it emerged that Conservative candidates are systematically refusing to answer questions about their personal views.
The non-partisan network Democracy Club helps individual activists to come together to find out more about how their own prospective MPs would use political power. During the months ahead of the general election the organisation has built up the most comprehensive database of candidates ever compiled, and in the last few days the activists have been harnessing this to ask would-be parliamentarians where they stand on everything from CCTV cameras to gay parenting.
More than 1,000 of the candidates have now responded in full, and initial survey responses have been made available on-line at TheyWorkForYou.com. But there is striking variation in the degree of participation by politicians of different stripes.
With several days still left to fill in the forms, a clear majority of Green and UK Independence party candidates have already responded in full, as well as an impressive 43% of Liberal Democrats. Labour's response rate lags behind these parties at 27%, but is still well ahead of the Conservatives – who have responded in only 6% of cases.
Pressed by the Guardian to explain why Tory candidates were proving so coy, Seb Bacon, the founder of Democracy Club, cited some of the correspondence that club members had been receiving. Many Conservatives had explained their failure to answer using an identical phrase: "Surveys like this can often simplify policies too far and might not properly represent the nuances of party policies."
The stock response stood in contrast to the personal emails that many club members wrote to the candidates in requesting their views.
The apparently coordinated refusal of Cameron's Conservatives to answer the questions will stir memories of the early days of New Labour, during which the party's high command expressly forbid candidates to take part in newspaper surveys. Bacon said he was concerned that the Tories might be missing whole point of Democracy Club: "This is not a question of some media survey, but a matter of individual constituents using our network to test the individual views of the people who want to represent them. The questions we have posed are expressly not about party policy, but about where individuals stand."
The revelation will be particularly embarrassing for the Conservatives, since Cameron has personally argued that new technologies should be used to open politics up. The party made much of its decision to hire Tom Steinberg, the founder of MySociety, which runs the websites TheyWorkForYou and FixMyStreet as well as having links to DemocracyClub itself.
Oh and via email today I received my 'personal' contract with Cameron. What a load of waffle.