11 common mistakes to avoid when contacting an MP for the first time

The dust has finally settled on the 2015 election and there has been a huge influx of new MPs. This blog explores some of the common mistakes and pitfalls to avoid when contacting them for the first time.

1) Don’t say congratulations

Getting elected to Parliament is a huge achievement and one that should be recognised. Even if they have been re-elected, it’s a great opportunity to thank them for their work to date and to outline how you hope to work with them in future. You could even think creatively about how to do this using social media, or even just a good old fashioned greetings card.

2) Approach the wrong person

Building a relationship with an MP can be incredibly rewarding for you and your organisation but it’s worth checking that they are the right person for the job. ‘Write to them’ has a handy primer on when MPs can help and when they can’t – as well as up to date contact details for them and their offices (nb this close to an election I would check and double check those contact details.

3) Assume they know who you are

It’s important that MPs know who you are – but they will deal with 100s of organisations and 1000s of individuals at any given time – so don’t be afraid to clearly set out your stall. What does your organisation do? What impact does it have? How many people do you employ and how many volunteers do you have? Whose interests do you represent? Don’t assume they will remember you if you’ve only met them a handful of times before.

4) Ignore the constituency link

If you are based in their constituency, say so. Include a postcode if you can as this will help the MP’s staff prioritise you. Even better, take the time to outline exactly where you are based and where your work has an impact.

Tom Levitt, former MP for High Peak said: “If you’re in Manchester don’t confront them with a London issue. If you’re in Reading West don’t bring up Reading East! If it’s a national or international issue stress the local implications – even third world poverty is more real to them if you can show that a community of local people care about it.”

5) Think party, not person

Preparation is key and understanding a candidate’s background and priorities will go a long way in helping to communicate with them successfully. Remember that MPs are individuals and while they are members of a political party and are elected on a particular ticket, they will have their own views on the issues of the day.

You could check their website, look them up on twitter or search relevant newspapers for articles they may have written. If they have been re-elected you can check their voting record on the public whip website. And if they are a newly elected, perhaps they said something during the campaign that is relevant to you?

6) Forget that they need you as much as you need them

Many MP’s will now be thinking about how they can make an impact at a national level. Do you have a particular experience or insight that would feed into a wider debate? Offer to share those insights, connect them to relevant people or arrange a visit so they can see for themselves. If you can also help them demonstrate to a wider audience that they are being proactive all the better. Don’t be afraid to suggest involving the local press or publicising their engagement with you via social media.

7) Let your CEO dominate the conversation

Where possible, let MPs talk directly to the people affected by an issue. Whatever term you use, beneficiaries, users, clients or partners, involving who you represent and placing them at the heart of your campaigning is not only positive and desirable but can increase your impact.

8) Be vague

Set out what you want your MP to do as clearly and as concisely as possible. Do you want them to write to a government minister on your behalf? Intervene with the local council? Raise the issue in Parliament? Host an event? Help change a piece of legislation? Visit your service? Be as specific as possible.

9) Assume they were born yesterday

While MPs might not know everything about your issue in the way that you do – they do usually have a fairly high level of understanding and an ability to get to grips with the details pretty quickly. Don’t spend too long giving the background to an issue unless they are coming to it completely cold and save your valuable ink/time for what they can do to help you with a particular issue and why they should listen to you.

10) Be the first in the queue

Remember that a five year term is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s unlikely that you will be invited back to talk to them if you don’t make much of an impression so if you don’t have much to talk to them about right now, don’t worry. Just wait until you do.

Sarah Teather, Former MP for Brent East said: “Leave new MPs alone immediately after the election. It is always chaos. They won’t have staff and won’t have offices.”

11) Disappear into the night

MPs and their staff are busy people so sometimes things get lost in the system so don’t be put off if you don’t receive an immediate response. If you send a letter, chase up with a phone call. If you meet with your MP, send a follow up e mail setting out what you discussed and what you have asked them to do.

Like this blog? Please comment below with your thoughts or check out the post from former MP Tom Levitt on his top tips for contacting a new MP.

 

Are you thinking about your post-election influencing work? We’d love you to join us at Evolve 2015 for our ‘influencing and campaigning post-election’ workshop. We’ll be discussing the new political environment and sharing more tips on how to influence the new government.

Find out more about Evolve 2015

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