How to Influence Your MP
Dorchester Poverty Action
Reg Charity No. 1041397
This is written from experience over the last 30 years as Chair of Dorchester Poverty Action. DPA was set up in 1990 by Churches Together in Dorchester at a time when most people had no idea that there was real poverty in this apparently prosperous area. DPA seeks out causes of poverty and ways to tackle them.
Until the current Parliament, West Dorset has had the same MP – Sir Oliver Letwin – through most of that time. He has been a diligent constituency MP, always willing to meet with constituents at his various rural surgeries. He listened carefully and responded with clear answers but it was only rarely that one could see a real effect or change in policy as a result of taking a concern to him. This advice is offered based on those few occasions that produced an effect.
When you have a concern, think round it and discuss it carefully with an interested and knowledgeable group before taking it to the MP. A selective focussed shot is always better than a scatter-gun.
Find out from the MP’s office what is the preferred approach – a letter, e-mail, petition or a face-to-face meeting. If the latter is offered, always accept it.
Prepare an accurate but short summary of the concern and the surrounding facts, making these as local as possible. Send this to the MP in advance of your meeting or as a fact-sheet with a letter or e-mail. (Examples available on request are the fact sheets on local homelessness and on funeral poverty.)
Have just one aspect of your concern that you would like to see changed, rather than a general hope that the whole problem will be solved. For example, from my experience: when taking a concern on funeral poverty, we focussed on the level of funeral benefit and the lack of specific help for a child’s funeral. When taking a concern on rural homelessness, we focused on the lack of any overnight accommodation for those who are eligible to be housed locally but have complex problems.
If a meeting with the MP is to take place, decide in good time if you are attending alone or as a small group. Prepare carefully beforehand so that you have a clear brief presentation, precise questions and a hope-for outcome. Use every minute of the short time well. Make sure that there will be no hot-tempered remarks or ill-mannered responses to the MP when the meeting takes place – the well-meaning presentation of a genuine concern is far more effective.
You may feel, as a group that a significant number of people want to be involved. This would then entail inviting the MP to come to a large meeting as a speaker, a listener and to take questions. In that case it matters even more to be very precise about the exact nature of your concern, your hoped-for outcome and the programme to which you are inviting the MP.
Finally, congratulate the MP if there is an effect from your efforts, however long afterwards it happens. This is not only good manners but will oil the wheels for your next approach.
Dr Margaret Barker, Chair, Dorchester Poverty Action