Lobbying your MP: the do’s and don’ts, or how to get your message into your MP’s brain… …… not your MP’s bin!
- What to remember about MPs
Your MP is unlikely to be a lawyer and will not be a personal injury lawyer. MPs don’t like lawyers, especially those who whinge about costs; so make your pitch about injured people, not law firm interests.
MPs are interested in constituency issues: they like to be seen standing up for little person. If some local cause is interesting enough they can take it up. They like to be in the local papers as much as or even more than nationals, so try to find local examples to make the case.
MPs who are not ministers use political influence to holds the government to account, to explain action and policy: they don’t have executive power. MPs are your link to government ministers: if you write to a minister, the reply will come from civil servant: if your MP writes, the reply is signed off by the minister.
One MP is not permitted to write to another MP’s constituent. There is no point in you writing to every MP: they will just forward it on to the right constituency MP
- How to find and contact your MP
Do you know who your MP is? And who the MP is for where you work? If not you can find out through this link: http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/.
Constituency Office details and the email address will usually be on the MP’s website.
- Know your MP: doing your homework
A bit of homework may help you tailor your approach to press the right buttons: you wouldn’t go to court without thinking how best to put your case to the judge: it’s the same thing here.
If you write, spell his or her name correctly! (A common error to get wrong). The title: ‘Rt. Hon’. is reserved for Privy Councillors usually current or former senior ministers : most MPs aren’t, but yours might be.
Which Party: government or opposition? This affects what they may be prepared to do for you. Voting record ? Are they never/ occasionally /serial rebel against the whip? This tells you how likely they are to stand up for you; as does the length of time in Parliament: a newer MP is less likely to go out on a limb for you.
If they are on the front bench (minister or shadow) this can affect what they are allowed to do. If they are a minister or shadow for the relevant Government department you have hit the jackpot!
Speeches or questions? Have they ever had anything to say on the issues?
- How do you find out?
Parliament’s website: www.parliament.uk which leads you to Hansard and the Register of Members’ Interests.
www.theyworkforyou.com. This gives a voting analysis, how active they are, and what pqs, speeches etc they have made.
The MP’s own website and Party websites, local and national.
- Approaching your MP
Be clear in your own mind what you want your MP to do. Don’t ask them to do something they can’t do; but do ask them to report back to you on the outcome.
Marshal your arguments succinctly before making contact. Use any background information you have gained and tailor your approach to reflect what you know about the MP that is relevant. Try to use real cases to illustrate your points.
Get the MP’s name right!
Don’t say you have always voted for him/ her or his/her Party if you haven’t; and if you did vote for him/her be careful to say so extremely tactfully. Party canvassing records go back years!
Assume they know nothing about the issue, which will usually be the case, even if they are a lawyer. Even lawyer MPs are unlikely to know much about the detail or the arguments.
Remember you are a constituent seeking help, and not a lawyer, especially not a litigation lawyer looking for an argument. Your aim is to build a relationship not erect barriers.
- Phoning, emailing and writing to your MP
You are unlikely to be able to speak to your MP direct on your own call. The phone may be on voicemail: if so, leave a clear message with your number spoken slowly! You may find staff or an intern answers: be patient! Ask for a call back: briefly outline why, with all your numbers, including office, mobile and especially home landline and any other out of hours numbers, as MPs often catch up on phone messages in the evening.
Ideally write from your own personal email, not your firm’s as you are a constituent not a lawyer; your firm’s e- message will be full of disclaimers, logos etc.
Put your constituency home address and phone number at the start of the email, as the MP has to check you are a constituent: if you don’t you will be emailed back to ask for this.
Letters to MPs are going out of fashion due to email , but they can impact more than an email: again, remember you are writing as a constituent not as a lawyer. It’s best if you write from your home address and not on your firm’s letterhead. Include your email address for a reply. Avoid illegible hand writing, weird fonts and green ink: typescript or neat longhand please! The most impact: neat legible handwriting on blue Basildon bond.
Whichever, email, phone or letter, use your own words and don’t be pompous or aggressive: this is not a letter before action! Don’t write “we.” Don’t whinge about costs and the impact on your income: the issue is the impact on injured peoples’ access to justice, who are also the MP’s constituents; and possibly also the jobs of constituents who work for you .
Be clear what you would like the MP to do. Don’t expect a reply by return of post/email. A couple of weeks is normal, so go easy on progress chasing. If you get no reply within 3 weeks, follow up with gentle phone call to staff, not MP: they will have a better idea of progress in the office.
- MP advice surgery appointments
These have limited time: 10 to 15 minutes, like your GP. Keep cool, you may be kept waiting. The .MP may well see the housing or benefits case before you as more important.
Be focussed, and remember the MP is unlikely to know of the issue. If you can, take a well briefed constituent client, .or even better get a client to take you! It is very useful if a client who is also a constituent can help you put the case, but if you do want to take a client with you, (or vice versa) tell the MP in advance- no surprises.
Theoretical problems have less impact than real illustrated ones, so examples, examples, examples!
Be clear what you want the MP to do, and ask in terms: ( e.g. sign motion , table pq, write to the minister). Listen to what the MP says: let them have their say: you wouldn’t interrupt a judge (unless they’re really rambling on.) Ask for a report back.
Make any notes afterwards, not during the meeting: it makes an MP nervous if lawyer writing down everything they say verbatim!
Follow up with a short, chatty “thank you for seeing me” letter/ email, gently setting out what the MP agreed to do and asking for the promised feedback.
- Political Party meetings for party members only
If you are a member of the same Party, use this access to your MP to flag up the issue, but don’t go into huge detail: ask for a separate discussion.
- Key points to remember
You are relationship building: not a one off argument ending in tears: you will want to come back for more in the future.
Do your homework and remember your MP is unlikely to know much about what you are raising.
You are a constituent not a lawyer, but us se your clients’ cases as examples, or better still your clients to put the case.
Be clear in the points you raise and what you want your MP to do and ask for feedback on progress.