Nine tips for engaging with politicians

Earlier this week I presented a webinar on engaging with politicians – you can watch back here (we had some sound issues, so it’s a bit echo-y at the start, but it does get better). I went into a bit more detail for the webinar, but we thought it might be useful to summarise the nine tips I covered.

1.      Start with what you do, not what you want

When you meet a politician it’s tempting to go straight into the policy change you want, but politicians will want to know a bit more about what you do, how you support your beneficiaries and the impact you make. So when you are starting to build a relationship make sure these things are very clear. And if you’re not sure how best to define and talk about your impact, we have some resources that can help.

2.      Think about constituencies

For most MPs, their primary goal will be to get re-elected, so if something matters to their constituents it probably also matters to them. So it’s worth looking for things that might make your issue particularly salient in a constituency – it could be a particular type of employment, or a particular famous industry, or you have research that shows a problem is particularly prevalent. And if you have a local interest as a charity, whether you are based there or have supporters, make sure you take advantage.

3.      Think about what will appeal to them personally

But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that constituency issues are the only things that matter to MPs. You only have to look at the likes of Kate Hoey and Anna Soubry on Brexit to see that sometimes MPs will back their personal judgement on issues even where it might be controversial locally. And most MPs will have issues that they’re particularly interested in, so it’s worth investigating to see what they speak about and how it might fit with your issues.

Members of the House of Lords of course don’t have constituencies, so are even more likely to focus on personal interests.

4.      Think about how you can fit with their agenda

Whenever you meet a politician, remember that they have objectives they’re looking to achieve. So it’s worth thinking about what their personal political agenda might be, but also that of their parties. Look at what they are focusing on, and also try to use the language that they are using about problems and potential solutions.

5.      Match the right tactics to the right person

Once you’ve made a useful connection with a politician, it’s important that you play to their strengths. Getting an influential backbencher with the ear of government to table an Early Day Motion is a waste of their time, and yours. So think about what they can most helpfully do for you – for example opposition parties might be helpful in making the running and getting an issue up the agenda, while government backbenchers will be more useful in raising concerns behind the scenes, or demonstrating to ministers that they might have a problem in carrying a policy through.

6.      Provide several options for concrete action

Different MPs and peers will have different preferences for how to approach a problem, and what they’re prepared to do. Government backbenchers may be less keen to criticise the government publicly, but they might be prepared to write to the minister, or have a word behind the scenes. So it’s always worth presenting several different options – in an ideal world you might want someone to ask for a debate, but have things like oral and written questions, or writing letters, as a back-up so that you are able to provide for some concrete action.

7.      Ask for their advice (and take it)

Many politicians love to talk about parliamentary and campaigning tactics, so asking them their advice on what they’d do in your situation can be helpful. It can help to build your relationship, but also MPs and peers have got a pretty good idea of what works and how parliament feels on certain things, so it tends to be advice that’s worth listening to.

8.      Share intelligence and your work

Once you’ve built a relationship with a politician ongoing contact will help to cement that relationship. If you know they are interested in a particular issue, sharing intelligence you’ve picked up from elsewhere can be a good way of keeping them in the loop – and they might reciprocate and let you know what’s happening behind the scenes.

When you publish any reports or other new pieces of work, it’s worth thinking about who are the relevant stakeholders who need to see, including MPs and peers. You can do this on an ad hoc basis, but if you can put together a formal system for your publications that’s probably even better.

9.      Find ways to involve engaged parliamentarians in your work

And finally for those politicians you build really close relationships with, you might want to find other ways to get them involved. Whether it’s asking what they think about you, asking them to comment on your strategy or involving them in working groups on particular issues, this could help you to fully develop a long-term mutually beneficial relationship.

This is of course not an exhaustive list, but hopefully it gives you a starting point, or a refresher if you’re regularly looking to engage with politicians.

And if you want more info on how to make the most of your campaigns, our upcoming campaigning conference will cover a range of approaches and tools that could help, including using polling effectively, developing a theory of change, and how you can use framing to support your campaign.

This entry was posted in Policy, Practical support and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Like this? Read more

Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

Comments are closed.