An MP is for life not just for Christmas

Woman holding guide on a black table cloth

They’re making a list, they’re checking it twice, they’re going to find out who’s naughty or nice. No, it’s not Santa and his elves, it’s small and local charities up and down the country trying to work out how to get the most from their new MPs.

Following on from our last blog about how charities can engage the people they support to take part and exercise their right to vote, it’s also important to take a look at how charities can influence candidates running for MP to help tackle complex social issues.

Voting is just the beginning. Our holiday gift to you below is a crash course on making the most of your MP this election season:

 

  1. Find out who your candidates are

There’s likely to be a big turnover of MPs at the next election.  You can find out who your candidates are and which local events they’re likely to be at by visiting www.whocanivotefor.co.uk.

 

  1. Be clear about what your MP do for you

Often it can feel like MPs spend all their time in Westminster shouting at each other. It’s easy to write them off as disengaged or out of touch but they actually can make a lot of difference and with a bit of creativity can be a real ally for you and your charity – here are just a few of the ways they can be useful:

  • Do casework – providing support and advocacy for individuals
  • Champion your issues in Parliament and with Government – this isn’t just asking questions and raising concerns but also sitting on committees, scrutinising legislation and generally making sure your points are heard
  • Force Government to respond to issues – if you’re struggling with a government department on a key issue, MPs can raise it with a minister so they have to respond
  • Broker relationships – helping get introductions with ministers, local decision-makers and businesses - it’s amazing who will respond to the MP that could otherwise be a thorn in their side
  • Help with building your profile and securing press attention – an MP who comes to events can provide quotes and help secure news coverage of your everyday activities
  • Arrange a visit to Parliament MPs can sponsor events in Parliament (and therefore other MPs on issues that matter to you) and they can also give tours which can help you get a sense of the how decisions are made in the UK’s seat of power

Before you even try to engage them, it’s worth thinking what do you want from them? What might they be able to help with? And whether is this something that they can help with?

 

  1. Spell out why they should listen to you

I once met with an MP (to remain anonymous) who told the president of the Student’s Union to his face that she didn’t need to listen to him because students didn’t vote. This was in a marginal seat where we assumed she’d need every vote she could get. She calmly informed us that she’d done the maths and just didn’t need to listen to us.

I’ve also met with politicians across parties who’ve done everything they can to help charities meet with government ministers, championed the issues they care about and shaped their party manifestos as a result. 

The difference between these experiences is how candidates understood the balance of power. Be clear and upfront about who you were, why you are important in a constituency and why it is in a candidate’s interest to work with you.

Take the time to think through what your credentials are. Our what to expect when you’re expecting a general election guide has a useful checklist to work through on how to do this well, explains how you can secure a meeting with candidates and how to engage with them when face-to-face.

 

  1. Stand out from the crowd

For six weeks, candidates are out and about in the cold, knocking on doors and meeting with as many people as possible. That’s a lot of faces so it’s worth thinking about how you stand out and how you can build a relationship with candidates. The best way to do this is to take an interest in what they care about and to be yourselves. Again, the guide has some really great tips for how to get the best from your meeting but at the heart of it, think about what shows you at your best and how to make your time together fun or meaningful – maybe invite them to join your holiday events or join a drop-in session to meet with your team and people your charity supports. 

 

  1. Follow up

As the title of this blog somewhat cheesily says, an MP isn’t just for Christmas. A first date does not make a long-term relationship. Make sure to follow up with candidates after the election, congratulate them and think about how you’re going to engage with them next, remembering not just to remind them of what they said they’d do but of what you’ll do too. With some careful thought and a little effort, this relationship can continue to deliver for you for years to come.

If you’re a small charity leader or worker engaging with candidates this election in order to tackle complex social issues, don’t forget to share your experiences on Twitter using the hashtag #SmallVitalAndVoting.