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The Conservative MP caught rigging his popularity rating by sending emails to himself was told to do so by the website that shopped him, the MP's spokesman has claimed.

Bridgwater MP Ian Liddell-Grainger sent emails to himself through Writetothem.com, a website that helps people get in touch with their MPs, in order to change his rating on the site.

But Liddell-Grainger's spokesman said Tom Steinberg, then of www.faxyourmp.com (the site's precursor), told the MP on the telephone that he should send messages to himself through the site if he wanted to improve his popularity rating.

"Steinberg said, 'if you want to change your rating, just fax yourself'," the spokesman said.

"It's a publicity stunt [by Writetothem.com]," he added.

Yet Liddell-Grainger gave the BBC a different story. He told the BBC he had been trying to expose how the ratings could be skewed by just a handful of messages.

However, Tom Steinberg, denied he had suggested the MP fake his rating. He also denied that such a scheme would have worked because the ratings* were not calculated on the fly.

Steinberg has posted an email he says he received from the MP at the end of 2004 where he complained that a rival was exploiting his low rating and said: "If it takes me to help myself, I am sure you understand why."

Liddell-Grainger can normally be found scrutinising the conduct of government in his place on the Public Administration Committee.®

* The rating is based on the number of replies MPs send to messages they receive through the service. Liddell-Grainger said in his email to Tom Steinberg that he had replied to all the messages he had received through the service.

Between 2002 and 2004, the site's users recorded 57 replies to messages they had sent to Liddell-Grainger, while 62 said they had received no reply.

The MP's spokesman said Liddell-Grainger got 199 messages through FaxyourMP.com between 2002 and 2004. But he receives 700 to 800 a week through official channels.

Excluding cut-and-paste copies, Writetothem.com carried 42,000 messages between citizens and MPs last year.

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