Ten tips for engaging with Parliament

Daniel Wood
Daniel Wood

This is an article by Daniel Wood.

A great deal is written about how to influence Parliament – with an impression being created of a mysterious world full of shadowy figures and a coded language that only a select few can crack.

In reality, engaging with Parliament is surprisingly straightforward. The most effective campaigns follow the best practices of any other form of public relations: clarity, simplicity, positivity, innovation.

There is no set way of running a parliamentary campaign, but here are ten top tips to get you started:

1. Find out what Parliament does

You can’t really expect to get much from its Members if you don’t know what they do. Help on finding out what Parliament does is available from Parliament’s Outreach Service

2. Get to know MPs

Are they Ministers, Shadow Ministers, members of a particular committee, involved in an All Party Parliamentary Group? What did they do before becoming an MP and why did they get into politics? What are their passions outside of work? Who works in the office and what do they do?

Politics is a people business.

3. Don’t forget the House of Lords

Like MPs, Members of the Lords scrutinise legislation (two thirds of their work), hold the government to account and raise key issues.

Members of this House don’t represent geographical areas. Instead, they focus on specific topics, based on their own expertise. Identify members with an interest and expertise relevant to your issue.

4. Don’t wait for bad news before contacting Parliament

If you are serious about shaping legislation or government policy, develop a regular dialogue to ensure that Parliament is aware of your views/ interests in time to consider them seriously.

5. Don’t blanket bomb

MPs don’t all have the same interests and neither do Members of the Lords, so identify Parliamentarians with a specific interest in your issue. Standardised communications get standardised responses and can be counterproductive to a campaign.

6. Keep written communications (letter and e-mail) short, targeted and relevant

The average MP can receive between five hundred and one thousand pieces of correspondence in a week. Therefore your correspondence needs to be clear and focused.

The following information is always useful:

  • Who are you and why are you contacting this person?
    Are you a constituent writing to their MP, an education charity writing to a select committee member? Is this a briefing ahead of a debate, a request for support, an invitation to speak at a conference?
  • What is the issue, why is it an issue, who does it affect, how does it affect them?
    Short crisp information to back up your arguments is helpful, as is information specific to an MPs constituency.
  • What do you want to happen next?
    Both as an immediate follow up to your correspondence and as the ultimate goal of your campaign.

Members of both Houses can be contacted by letter, e-mail, phone and social media. Most MPs also hold surgeries on a Friday or Saturday where constituents can meet them directly.

7. Get involved in the work of Select Committees

Select Committees enable MPs and Members of the Lords to examine the work of government departments, the EU and issues of public interest on a cross-party basis.

Since 2010 the committees have become increasingly high profile, with organisations like News International, Google, Starbucks, the Police Federation and the BBC being subject to fierce questioning on their actions.

The majority of committee work is carried out through public inquiries which enable groups and organisations to raise issues and propose solutions on a range of topics. You can sign up for e-mail alerts on the work of individual committees, including calls for evidence as part of inquiries.

8. Plan well in advance if you want MPs or Members of the House of Lords to attend events

Their diaries get booked up very quickly.

9. Treat Parliamentarians as you would want to be treated yourself

Basic advice I know, but something that a surprising amount of people forget.

For me this means:

  • Be courteous when corresponding (you are dealing with a human being)
  • Remember that yours is not the only issue
  • Don’t back people into a corner
  • Don’t assume support (or opposition) – find out what people think
  • Provide ongoing support and encouragement – don’t dump your issue on someone and expect them to solve it alone
  • Offer solutions as well as problems -you have more chance of getting what you want this way

 

10. Let Parliament help you

From Outreach Service workshops to the website and social media channels, and the Commons and Lords inquiries lines, there is a wealth of resources available to help you.

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