This section is based on notes from a workshop on 'Lobbying your MP' at the 2017 City of Sanctuary conference and AGM, led by Asylum Matters.
GETTING IN TOUCH:
- They work for you. MPs represent their constituents who have the power to vote them back in or boot them out, so they do care about what you think!
- Find our who your MP is. http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/ Go to their website to find out when the hold surgeries around the constituency and then get in touch to book an appointment. MPs will only deal with people who live in their constituency so make sure to include your address (postcode) when you get in touch.
- Send an email. MPs get large volumes of emails every day on a range of issues so do your best to make yours clear and concise, clearly setting out what you’d like them to do. If you’re taking part in an ‘email your MP’ action, make sure to personalise your message to increase the likelihood of your email having impact.
- Get in touch via social media. Many but not all MPs are on social media. This can be an effective way to publicly press them on certain issues but be careful to ensure the tone is not too confrontational or to go down the ‘naming and shaming’ route as this can jeopardise a future relationship. Social media is a good way to highlight your MP’s support for a campaign and give them public recognition for their work.
- Pick up the phone. While you’re unlikely to speak to your MP directly, you can pick up the phone to book a meeting. It’s usually best to call the constituency number provided (rather than the Westminster number). If you have an issue you want to discuss, sending an email is often a good first step to allow your MP to consider the issue and their response. But if your issue is urgent, a phone call could allow them to take action sooner rather than waiting for a meeting.
- Meet in person. MPs hold regular surgeries where constituents can come along and raise issues of importance to them. Don’t be intimidated by the prospect of a face to face meeting! Often they won’t be experts on the issue and will enjoy hearing from constituents on a range of issues. Remember that they are only human – there is no magic formula for winning them over and ultimately a simple, human message might be the one that works best.
- Come prepared. If you’re meeting for the first time, make sure you know a bit about your MP including their party and the issues they particularly care about. You can do this by looking at their voting record, questions they’ve asked and motions they’ve supported, as well as looking at any media coverage or their social media feed. This should help you understand their position on the issue you want to talk about and allows you to consider the messages which could resonate best.
- Be clear on how they can help. Be clear on what you would like your representative to do about the issue you’ve brought to them. If you’re not sure what concretely they can do, ask them how they think they could help give profile to your issue and build support for it in the community and Parliament.
- Keep to time. MPs have very busy schedules so make sure to ask at the start of your meeting how much time you have and stick to it. Try and get your top messages across as quickly and simply as you can.
- Offer them the ‘hero’ opportunity.Consider how backing your issue will play out for your MP in terms of impact on voters, important constituencies and local press. If you can frame your issue as an opportunity for your MP to step in and ‘save the day’ while gaining stature and visibility, they may be more likely to back you. Consider taking a photo with your MP at the meeting and sharing on social media channels or even pitching it to local press– always remember to ask before you share though!
- Bring in the experiences of refugees and asylum-seekers. MPs don't often hear from people who have been through the asylum system, and sometimes hearing from them directly can have the most impact. Consider how you can provide a platform for refugees and asylum-seekers to ensure their voices are heard – whether by attending a meeting directly to share firsthand experiences or by using anonymized anecdotes and stories.
- Work with others. Consider bringing a group of people to your meeting who represent a diverse group of constituents. MPs are more likely to take notice if varied members of the community unite behind an issue.
- Follow-up immediately. Send a follow-up email or letter after you’ve met summarizing your key points and the action your MP agreed to take, as well as asking them to feedback on the outcome of their action.
- Assume knowledge. While MPs may come across confidently engaging on a number of issues, it’s impossible for them to know about them all in depth. Rather than launching into detailed policy discussions, think about how to introduce your issue in a clear and simple way.
- Spam your MP. There are a large number of public campaigns with pre-scripted emails ready to be sent on to relevant MPs, meaning they could be targeted by a large number of constituents with the same message. Personalising emails increases the chance that your MP will read and respond to your message – note that you are a constituent and make sure to add why the issue is important to you.
“My inbox is unsustainable. I get thousands of emails a week, and lots are from campaigners who have been urged to spam me to get their messages across. The trouble is, at those volumes, emails just become noise.” - Stella Creasy MP
- Expect them to do all the work. Think about ways you can help your MP achieve your goal. They have limited resources so think about what you can offer to make supporting your issue even easier – for example offering to collate relevant research, draft key messages or questions to raise in Parliament, or to reach out to other allies in the community.
- Start a fight. The best campaigns are about collaboration – your MP doesn't have a magic wand to fix all of your issues so make sure to take on a more cooperative approach to explore solutions. They also don’t have to agree with you or do everything you ask so don’t get angry if they say ‘no’ but try and get more detail on why they have a certain viewpoint.
- Give up if you hear no. If your MP disagrees with you, ask why and make sure to understand their motivations. Then you can go back to the drawing board, try to spot flaws in their arguments and consider how to build a more compelling case.
- Forget to say thank- If your MP has followed up on your issue, make sure to say thank you. Consider saying thank you on social media to amplify the positive actions of your MP and spread the word about your issue.