A guide to getting your MP to take action
Political Lobbying Network member Fi Radford in Bristol shares her top tips on lobbying your MP…
By Fi Radford
Put yourself in their shoes! That would be my key piece of advice for anyone wanting to successfully lobby their MP on any issue. Imagine a huge inbox that never empties, umpteen people wanting to bend your ear about their particular concerns, the ongoing and very real needs of your local constituents (known as casework), not to mention the demands of the Party and the House of Commons and, (if you are not in government) all without Civil Service support. I really don’t know how the good ones cope!
So, to lobby successfully you need to be friendly, clear and succinct in your ask, and able to back it up with reliable and well researched information. If you and your MP share common values and interests, you can become a useful resource over time, as trust grows. However, this all changes if you have very little in common, and you have to start from square one even to try and convince your MP of the science of climate change, as my Greenpeace friend had to do with the member for the 18th century. (No prizes for guessing!)
I first met Thangam Debbonaire (Labour MP for Bristol West) when a group of us travelled up to Westminster to greet her just after she had been elected in 2015. I remember giving her a copy of ‘This Changes Everything’ by Naomi Klein, which at the time she did not seem too thrilled to receive. Later she told me she had read it whilst convalescing from breast cancer, which assailed her early on in her parliamentary career, but from which I am glad to say she has fully recovered. Then in 2016 and 2017 I organised two one-hour sessions with other Environmental Groups to ask her questions on a variety of green issues. These went really well, and it was clear that with the exception of the big ‘N’ (Nuclear energy) there was a high degree of agreement, especially since Labour changed their policy and withdrew support from fracking.
Over time we’ve built a strong relationship and I consider her an ally. I recently went to meet her at her ‘surgery’ with a shopping list of three requests on plastics, fracking and a fierce watchdog in the new Environment Act meant to replace EU regulations and in every instance she concurred and gave me good advice to pass back to Greenpeace UK. I always follow up our meetings with a letter of thanks and listing what actions have been agreed. It is also a good idea to make a friend of her Parliamentary Aid too.
Between meetings I follow her on Facebook and theyworkforyou.com, which does not cover all the questions she raises, but most of them. I often write and thank her for a particular question she has raised on an environmental topic. Very occasionally I will send her articles which I think she will find useful, as she is keen to learn much more about renewables. I always try not to send her petitions having heard her heartfelt plea as the MP who always receives the most!
It helps to be part of the Greenpeace Political Lobbying Network as advice and information is always there to give you confidence and support. I would definitely encourage anyone with an interest in politics to get involved in lobbying, as even though our democracy is flawed, it is only our MPs who nationally have the power to change things for the better and even in opposition they have soft power and influence. I am very lucky with my MP and I know others may prove harder to convince, but if they like you and you can back up your arguments, then it is well worth persevering.
Feeling inspired? The Political Lobbying Network is made up of hundreds of Greenpeace supporters who contact MPs and other elected representatives about our campaigns and broader environmental issues. Thanks in part to lobbying from members of the Network, Government committed to backing the creation of an Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary.
Sign-up here to get more info and training. We’re running training on talking to your MP in London on 30th March and in Manchester on 27th April and you’re more than welcome.