Last week, I received a request from the Jubilee Debt Campaign (JDC) to phone my MP asking them to support a 10-minute rule bill debate.
Phoning my MP isn’t a campaign tactic that I’ve seen used often in the UK, although our friends across the Atlantic make regular use of it, often providing a toll-free number to campaigners to encourage them to phone their representatives in Congress.
It’s certainly an interesting and novel tactic, and I can see why JDC choose to use it as a way of trying to circumvent the bombardment of ‘urgent’ e-mail requests that many MPs report receiving, but to be honest I’m not sure that targeting it towards MPs is going to be especially effective. Here’s why;
1 – It’s too easy to dismiss – I sense these calls only work if a campaigning organisation is able to generate a significant number of calls to every MP. Perhaps a targeted strategy to a handful of influential MPs, with especially tailored messages might work, but a blanket approach reduces the numbers and makes it too easy for an MP to dismiss a single caller as representing a minority view rather than a significant concern of constituents.
2 – It’s too easy to be overlooked or forgotten – Most MPs appear to have well-established systems to deal with the postcards and letters that they receive. The very fact that someone needs to physically do something with them (even if that means throwing them in the bin!) means that they get noticed, but the same can’t be said for a call which can easily be forgotten the moment the phone is put down!
3 – It’s a big ask of a campaigner – The barriers to entry are high, for example the UK Parliament doesn’t have a single number you can use to call all MPs. Instead you need to find a number for every MP individually, and then in this case, you’ve got to be a fairly confident campaigner to chat to your MP about a 10-minute rule bill.
I can however, see the value in encouraging campaigners to call an individual target, either within a government or a corporate with a simple message.
Indeed it’s already been put to good use by campaigners, at the end of last year members of the UKYCC managed to overload the Downing Street switchboard when they made calls to demand that Chris Huhne stay at the climate change talks in Cancun.
I think this worked because the campaign was able to demonstrate volume by getting significant numbers of people to call in very short timeframe, plus agility by responding to an issues which by its very nature needed a quick decision. But even then I think it’s a tool that can only be used occasionally if it’s going to have a real impact.
Do you agree? Is this a valuable new tool that campaigners should be using?
Update – A reader points out that a switchboard number for the House of Commons (020 7219 3000) but that its unlikely that they’d take kindly to hundreds of coordinated phone calls.