Many charities will be re-evaluating their policy and public affairs plans following the unexpected general election result earlier this month. While it can be hard to plan in times of uncertainty, the new Parliament brings fresh opportunities for charities who are campaigning for policy change.
For a start, the new Parliament contains 99 new MPs. This includes a number of familiar faces who have regained lost seats, such as former Business Secretary Vince Cable and on-off Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, as well as an assortment of brand new MPs with no prior experience of Parliament.
The number of newly elected MPs creates an exciting opportunity for charities, as new MPs bring an array of personal and professional experience to their role. Engaging with these new MPs from all sides of the political spectrum is key to achieving policy goals by creating a wide base of support for your cause. In this post we lay out some handy tips on how best to go about this, including identifying who to target, how and when.
Who to Target
When deciding which new MPs to target it is important to do your research to understand their personal and professional background. Their own campaign website will offer a biography and the key issues they campaigned on, and websites such as Labour List and Conservative Home offer a brief biography of selected parliamentary candidates.
Many MPs and parliamentary candidates will have a LinkedIn profile, where you can see their previous professional positions. Equally, the Democracy Club has CVs of parliamentary candidates, although this is not exhaustive.
A significant number of new MPs will have worked as a local councillor prior to being selected to run for Parliament. Looking at what their council responsibilities and interests may have been is another way to understand the kinds of issues they are interested in and knowledgeable about. The responsibilities of councils are not as wide-ranging as government, but for charities focused on health and social care, education or community issues, this is a useful way to identify relevant MPs.
For returning MPs who have regained lost seats, it is valuable to conduct research on their previous work in Parliament. The website TheyWorkForYou allows you to search an MP’s speeches for key terms to see if they have ever raised an issue in Parliament.
When researching new MPs and their areas of interest be sure to think about the wider issues surrounding your charity’s specific area of focus. For example, for our work with The Hepatitis C Trust we look to target MPs who have shown interest in issues such as health inequality, HIV, drug misuse or homelessness, all of which intersect with hepatitis C. MPs are unlikely to have spoken directly on your specific issue, and so taking a wider approach will allow you to broaden your support base.
How to Target
Stand out from the crowd
When writing to MPs the key is to make your cause stand out. Newly elected MPs with have a huge number of people and organisations contacting them and demanding their attention, and your cause needs to stand out from the pack.
Be professional and polite, congratulating them on their electoral success. Be clear and concise about what the issue is and what your organisation aims to do about it. Do not bombard MPs with information and statistics. Instead, briefly outline the issues and how they relate to the current policy landscape as a way to capture their attention.
Make it personal and local
Make sure to tailor your correspondence to each MP and avoid sending out blanket correspondence. Say why you are writing to them and not someone else by highlighting what is in their personal or professional background that has led you to target them. This demonstrates you are not simply sending the same correspondence to all newly elected MPs, and shows that you have done your research.
Talk about the local as well as the wider national issues. An issue that directly affects a new MP’s constituents is more likely to attract their attention than an issue of general concern. Include, for example, statistics on how many people are affected by the issue in their constituency, or talk about the work you are doing in their local area. Bringing the local to Westminster is key to attracting and maintaining an MP’s attention.
Ask for action
Finally, make sure to include an action in your correspondence – what do you want them to do for you? Simply highlighting why an issue is important and asking them to care is not enough, and without making your correspondence actionable you are unlikely to receive a reply from busy new MPs.
Asking MPs for a meeting to brief them further on the issues, inviting them to an event your organisation is hosting, or suggesting you arrange a visit for them are examples of actions you could request. Be sure to make it as easy as possible for them to take you up on your offer, by suggesting times for a meeting or offering to organise any visit for them.
When to Engage
Bombarding newly elected MPs with correspondence in the immediate aftermath of the election simply means your email will sit at the bottom of their inbox. MPs will need time to get their office up and running and to employ staff in their Westminster and constituency offices. Many new MPs in 2010 reported a feeling of ‘information overload’ as they started their new role where they receive thousands of emails a week.
However, the timing of the election means Parliament will only sit for roughly six weeks before summer recess, which will begin on 20th July and end on 5th September. During this period you are less likely to elicit a response from MPs. Initiating contact before Parliament breaks up for summer recess will ensure your cause is at the forefront of their mind.
Do not dismay if you do not receive a response after one email. Politely send a follow up email or call their office if you have not heard back within a fortnight. If possible, CC their office manager into all correspondence as they are in charge of organising their MP’s diary and time.
Importantly, make sure you have done your research before sending any correspondence, as you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Remember that building strong and workable relationships with MPs takes time. Friendly MPs who truly understand and are willing to fight for your cause are an invaluable resource for your organisation, and taking the time to develop a relationship based on mutual respect and understanding is the best way to achieve lasting change.