Holding successful events with MPs in Parliament

Conference season is upon us and many campaigners will be packing their bags to head off to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester.
But  as Chloe Stables notes in an excellent post about making the most of attending conference they can be ‘expensive, hectic and occasionally frustrating‘ but other options for engaging with MPs do exist.
Back in March, I was involved in organising an event to mark World Water Day, which at the time one colleague musedwas a better use of resources that organising an fringe meeting at Party Conference.
A modest objective of getting 12-15 MPs along was set but in the end we got over 40 MPs came to join in, a great success and far more than we would have got attending a fringe event at conference.

David Burrowes MP at the event
One of the 40 MPs who attended the event
The idea was simple. Invite MPs to join us on and walk 100m with a jerry can on a course we’d set up in Victoria Tower Gardens, it was a symbolic act to remember the fact that many people have to walk up to 6km to get access to something we expect to get from our taps, and we hoped that it would help to build links with Parliamentarians who could act as champions for the issue in the coming year.
You can read more about the event here, but it got me thinking about what some of the elements that made the event a success.
Perhaps they’re nothing new but I wanted to share them to see what insight others have about what works when looking to engage MPs in events in Parliament.
1. Provide a photo opportunity – It’s a cliché but the offer of a photo and a pre-prepared press release undoubtedly encouraged some MPs to join us. We set up a water pump and promised to get the release to them within 3 hours. It was nice to use this as a way of helping the MP demonstrate the interest they had in the issue.
2. Targeted the few not the many – The decision was taken early in the planning not to actively invite all MPs, but to identify and approach a smaller number of influential MPs on the topic, for example those on key select committees or those who’d shown an interest in the issue previously. We hoped that our invitation was more likely to get noticed, and we already had a relationship with some which made it easier to follow up with.
3. Followed up via Twitter – Ahead of the event, we got in touch with those MPs who used twitter to remind them to come down. At least one mentioned that this had made the difference about them attending or not.
4. Used our supporters – We invited our supporters who lived in the constituencies of MPs we had an interest in to attend, but had realistic expectations about the number who’d be able to join us on a Tuesday. We also encouraged them to get in touch and invite their MP along anyhow. Again, a number of MPs mentioned that this was one of the reasons they joined us.
5. Made the most of our contacts – We found that amongst an extended group of colleagues had a number had contact with friends who worked for MPs or who could raise the profile of the event inside Parliament. A few well placed e-mails and calls from them certainly helped to increase the numbers attending. A reminder that sometimes it’s useful to use your personal contacts.
6. Kept the event going for two hours – Allowing MPs a longer window of time to come along seemed to yield dividends in reducing the number of MPs who simply couldn’t join us because of diary clashes.
What successful events have you organised with MPs? Is Conference a useful forum to engage with MPs? What have you found works and what hasn’t?
Some of this post originally appeared on the NCVO Campaigning Forum.

Five for Friday 24th June….

It’s Friday, so here are five great articles I’ve read in the last few weeks that are worth reading in your lunch break…..
1. Research from the US suggested that ‘LinkedIn Is An Untapped Treasure Trove For Political Campaigns‘ because it draws older, more educated citizens–voters who are far more reliable when it come to casting ballots than those on Facebook. (h/t @rechord)
2. The Guardian reports on a new report from the Constitution Unit that suggests most decisions in the government are reached through informal channels rather than formal coalition machinery. Alison Goldsworthy has some useful advice on the NCVO Forum about influencing the coalition.
3. Casper ter Kuile points to a great article on the New Organising Institute that reminds us of ‘What We Can’t Teach: Courage and Commitment in Campaigns‘.
4. A new e-book reviews the last 10 years of the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa. (h/t @sullyserena)
5. Charles Secrett causes a stir by arguing that ‘Environmental activism needs its own revolution to regain its teeth‘ promoting a strong rebuttal from Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and a further response from Secrett. My own thoughts on the original article are here.
What else have you read that you’d add?
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Useful insight from BBC4 series 'The Secret World of Whitehall'

I’ve posted a few thoughts for campaigners on the excellent BBC4 series ‘The Secret World of Whitehall’ over on the NCVO Campaign and Influence Forum.
The three-part series, which finishes on Wednesday night, has been a revealing look at some of the key departments at the heart of Government over recent decades, and I think it has some really useful insight for those looking to influence government.
If you’ve been watching the series do share your thoughts over on the Forum. If you haven’t watched it so far I’d encourage to catch up on iPlayer.

Three ways campaigners could keep (some) MPs happy

Brian Lamb has written two excellent blog posts in the last week  (on the NCVO site and on Third Sector), which both mention an evidence session of the Public Administration Select Committee in late January where a small number of MPs spent a considerable amount of time grilling representatives from leading charities about campaigning.
So what can we learn from the exchanges about which tactic campaigners should avoid if they want to keep (some) MPs happy?
In the same way that a single swallow doesn’t make for summer, we need to be careful to assume that the comments of a few MPs reveal how the majority of Parliamentarians view charity campaigning, but the transcript is worth a read as it reveals some bad campaigning practice that’d campaigners would do well to avoid if they’re to keep some MPs on side;
Lesson 1 – Sending the wrong person to do the lobbying
Some of the MPs objected to no longer being lobbied by Chief Executives but instead ‘by parliamentary campaigns officers who, in most cases, have absolutely nothing of interest to tell me‘. Clearly not all MPs feel this way (and MPs aren’t obliged to meet with Parliamentary Officers!) but does hierarchy matter more when you’re working with Conservative MPs? I’ve heard of one government department where the Minister will only meet with Chief Exec’s, and if  this is a trend are CEOs making enough space in their diaries to engage in lobbying?
Lesson 2 – The personal touch counts
Others objected to the sending of ‘impersonal e-mails and sending letters on behalf of their Chief Executives with electronic signatures‘. With one MP arguing ‘I cannot recall ever sending a letter with an electronic signature to any of my constituents‘. Seems to be common sense to me and an easy mistake to avoid.
Lesson 3 – Don’t overwhelm them with automated emails
This issue seems to be Robert Halforn MP bugbear (he also wrote about it here) and it’s something that campaigners have heard before (remember the incident with Dominic Raab MP last summer), but the comment shows the sheer number of messages that MPs appear to be receiving ‘ that at least 20% of the 150 to 200 e-mails a day I get nowadays are from charities, and they’re not personal e-mails-they’re ones produced when people put their name and a postcode on their charity’s computer and you get an automated e-mail‘. Does this just show it’s an effective tactic or is it a tactic which is fast loosing its impact? If it’s the latter then it feels to me that the sector needs to start thinking and innovating about new ways of generating mass actions.
Aside from the highlighting of less effective campaign tactics, the exchange focused on the amount of money that charities spend on advertising and campaigning. Lots has been written about this, see Sir Stephen Bubb’s blog and Third Sector on this, but clearly it’s an issue that some who have a less favourable view of charity campaigning will continue to go on about.
Perhaps one solution would be to learn from organisations, like 38 degrees, who do direct fundraising to pay for campaign ads, perhaps it’d be worth others considering this to show that those who’ve given money are happy for it to be used in this way. That way, it’d be very easy for a charity to say that its donors were very clear about what the money would be used for.
As an aside, you could argue that the money that Shelter spent on the advert near Parliament was well spent because it’s clearly been remembered by Politicians!

APPGs and Charities – What the data shows

The APPG on Smoking and Health meeting - from www.ash.org.uk
The Guardian DataBlog has today made available information on all the contributions made to support the work of All Party Parliamentary Groups in the current Parliament. They found that 283 of the 450 groups received some kind of financial support from outside interests.
The groups, often know as APPGs for short, are made up of MPs and Members of the House of Lords who share a particular interest in a subject or country and hold meetings related to their shared interest.
Charities have long made use of APPGs as a way of raising awareness within Parliament and supporting those MPs and Lords who have an interest in a particular issue to raise questions with Government ministers and get involved in policy discussions.
Some quick sorting of the data shows the extent of current involvement;
Money

  • Together 20 charities contribute £97,763 to the costs of running 9 All Party Groups, with the Great Lakes Region of Africa APPG receiving the most (£27,500) and the Dementia APPG the least (£1866).
  • The International Planned Parenthood Federation is the biggest contributor giving £12,356 to the Population, Development and Reproductive Health APPG and £5000 to the HIV/AIDS APPG.
  • Christian Aid is the only other NGO which gives to more than one group,  contributing to both the Great Lakes Group (£6000) and Agriculture and Food for Development Group (£3000), and development NGOs are by far the most generous providing just under £78,000 in total.
  • The average contribution to an APPG is just under £5000.
  • The use for most of the contributions is not specified, but 5 charities provide funding for an administrator while others are down as covering the cost of printing a report or costs of a trip for members of the APPG.

Support

  • 64 Charities provide secretarial support to a APPG. Almost all of the time this is support a group that is linked to the organisations purposes, for example the National Autism Society provides support for the Autism APPG, the Tibet Society to the Tibet APPG, etc.
  • Results UK is the only NGO that provides secretarial support to more than one APPG providing it to the Global Education for All, Microfiance and TB APPGs.
  • 5 APPGs report that charities have helped to support the cost of receptions or other events.

No doubt some will suggest that this isn’t how charities should be using their money, but I personally think it provides good value.
These groups have long been used as way of engaging and influencing busy MPs. Equally when you consider the bigger picture, that £1.6 million is spent on APPGs in total (so the charitable sector for 6% of the total) and the beer and wine industry can contribute £52,000 to the Beer group, I believe these figures are fairly modest.
What do you think? Are supporting an APPG a good or bad use of money?
In the interests of transparency, you can give the dataset that I’ve used adapted from the Guardian’s here. I’m happy to make amendments if notified of a mistake or inaccuracy (I’m human so expect that I’ve made a mistake or two). I have not included contributions made by Charitable Trusts or Foundations, or included Trade Associations which may in some instances be classed as charities.

Are top ministers avoiding meetings with NGOs?

Tom Watson has shared a treasure trove of information about who’s getting meetings with the new government on his blog
Publishing documents previously available only to those with access to the House of Commons library. It shows who advice is being sought and who’s being locked out.
The first few months of a governments matter, because they set the tone, it’s a time when departments are being bombarded with requests for meetings, so only those whose views are really wanted are invited in.
The information from the three of the ministries of state (No 10, Foreign Office and Home Office) makes for unhappy reading for civil society groups, despite the focus on the ‘Big Society’ their hasn’t been a lot of space created for meetings with representatives from CSOs.
The PM has held just one meeting with civil society, a roundtable with 16 organisations to discuss the ‘Big Society’. The only other non-business or media interest was a meeting with the TUC in July and Bob Geldof to discuss ‘development issues’ in June (presumably ahead of the G8) although many NGOs will remember with horror the way the Geldof threw away the script and fell out with many involved in the Make Poverty History after the G8 summit in 2005.
Compare that to meetings with Rupert Murdoch, Phizer, Facebook and Wikimedia, amongst others that the PM has had and it shows more of an enthusiasm to meet with foreign companies and representatives of News International.
Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, seems to have done a little better, attending the same meeting with Cameron to discuss ‘The Big Society’, and also receiving petitions from ‘Take Back Parliament’ and the Maternal Mortality Campaign, along with holding meeting with The Elders, Gates Foundation and the British Overseas Aid Group (a group of the biggest 5 development NGOs).
The same patterns seems to be repeating itself across at the FCO, William Hague hasn’t found time to meet with any campaigning organisations, although he made space for BAE Systems, delegating to junior minister meetings on a whole range of issues including elections in Burma, human rights and Zimbabwe.
The Home Office appear to have done better, with Home Secretary Thresea May holding ‘Introductions’ with Stonewall, Hillsborough Family Support Group, Migration Watch UK and a large group of equalities organisations. Other minister in the department also appear to have been busy meeting with a whole range of campaigning groups, like Refugee Watch, NSPCC and Women’s Aid.
As an aside my favourite entry from the Home Office is a meeting in July that Human Rights Watch held with Baroness Neville-Jones, the purpose of the meeting ‘Discuss report no questions asked’. It raises interesting questions about how the meeting was conducted, and if a cup of coffee was offered to those attending!
Meetings held by other departments are, as yet unavailable, although Tom Watson has promised to publish them if they are. It’ll be interesting to see if the pattern of senior ministers not meeting with CSOs has been happening at other departments, and if this trend continues in the coming months.

Lists of people who matter

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of lists. Although I’m not a natural Daily Telegraph reader, their annual profiles of the top 100 most influential people in each of the political parties is an invaluable resource when it comes to planning routes to influence.
100 Most influential Left-wingers – 1 to 25, 26 to 50, 51 to 75 and 76 to 100

100 Most influential Right-wingers – 1 to 25, 26 to 5051 to 75 and 76 to 100

Top 50 Lib Dems – 1 to 25 and 26 to 50

Other lists produced in time for Conference season include;
Left Foot Forward – most influential left-wing thinkers
New Statesman – 50 people who matter
Has anyone else found any useful lists?

How are new MPs adjusting to campaign tactics?

Parliament rose for the summer recess this week, and it’s been interesting to see how the new (and some returning MPs) have responded to all the campaigning actions that they’ve been on the receiving end of.
Exhibit A is an Early Day Motion (EDM) from the new Conservative MP for Weaver Vale, Graham Evans, who ironically used an EDM to criticise the effectiveness of them. Evan’s argues that;
this House regrets the continuing decline in importance of Early Day Motions which have become a campaign tool for external organisations; notes the role of public affairs professionals in drafting Early Day Motions and encouraging members of the organisations they represent to send pro forma emails and postcards to hon. Members; further notes the huge volume of correspondence that this generates and the consequent office and postage costs incurred; believes that the organisations involved derive little benefit from Early Day Motions, which very rarely have any influence on policy;
Only 22 MPs signed onto it although many of them are from the new intake of Conservative MPs, which might signal a disinterest in using them as a tool to register their support for an issue in the future.
Many campaigners have long discussed the effectiveness of EDMs, described by some MPs, who refuse to sign onto them viewing them as a form of ‘parliamentary graffiti’, but others see them as a useful way of demonstrating support for an issue, and a way of giving MPs a specific action to take to demonstrate support for an issue. ConservativeHome has more on the EDM and a counter one from another Conservative MP, plus an interesting case study of how an EDM started a campaign to keep the General Election Night Special, although this came as a result of a campaign that was initiated and of particular interest to MPs.
Exhbit B is this recent report in Third Sector magazine from a Media Trust event at which Charles Walker MP, a backbench Conservative MP commented that ‘Charities often write to MPs asking us to write to ministers to express their disquiet. They assume their concerns must be our concerns. That’s almost bullying, to be honest. Lots of the lobbying MPs are subjected to is blunt and cackhanded’
Going on to say that some charities, such as Macmillan Cancer Support and a local hospice charity in his constituency, were very good at communicating with him. Inviting him to events they are holding locally and saying “It’s almost impossible for an MP to turn down an invitation from a charity that is doing good work in his or her constituency.”
It’s too early to tell if the new batch of MPs are going to be more or less receptive to popular campaigning, but these two examples should perhaps challenge campaigning organisatons to think afresh about the tactics and approaches that are going to use to influence the new (and old) intake.

'Your Freedom' and better campaigning

The new coalition government seems to have gone a little crazy when it comes to website consultations. In the last few weeks we’ve had them announce ‘Spending Challenge‘ and ‘Your Freedom‘, with no doubt more to come in future weeks.
They’d say its all part of their new agenda of engaging with the public and moving away from a top-down approach, although the cynic in me says that it’s a good PR opportunity. No doubt time will tell if they provide good opportunities for campaigners, or if they’re just a diversion to provide some semblance of consultation but ultimately to ignore what people are saying.
However one process that campaigners should be interested in is ‘Your Freedom’ where the government is asking for what laws and regulations they should get rid of. High up on my list would be parts of the Serious and Organised Crime Policing Act (SOCPA for short).
Much has been written about the restrictions placed on campaigning by SOCPA, the need to give 6 days  notice to register to protest in Westminster, the arbitaroty 1 mile limit around Parliament and the way that its systematically made it harder to protest.Comedian Mark Thomas has shown the absurdity of much of the law, but the ‘Your Freedom’ consultation provides another way to reduce much of its impact.
Looking at the draft legislation, it repeals some of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) 2005 including the restriction of protests close to parliament. It also restricts CCTV use to investigation of serious crimes, repeals the 2005 Terrorism Act and restores the definition of a public assembly to 20 people rather than 2.
However, the draft does not as yet provide protection against the myriad other laws used to restrict campaigning – such as the Public Order Act (1986) which can be used to move the site of a protest, trespass laws used against people collecting petitions in shopping centres, harassment legislation that which bans “seeking to persuade someone not to do something that he is entitled or required to do” and terrorism legislation of 2006 which categorises non violent activists who damage property as terrorists.
The recent NCVO ‘Future Trends in Campaigning‘ publication highlighted the ‘marginalisation of dissent’ as a emerging trend for campaigners to address , so engaging with this consultation (whatever you think of its method) and also supporting the work of groups like BOND and NCVO in engaging on this should be hight up on the ‘to do’ list for campaigners to remove some these absurd laws to prevent this trend coming true.
Going forward it’ll be interesting to monitor the opportunities that the consultations provide to actually influence government policy. Campaigners should be watching to see how many of the most popular suggestiosn get acted upon, or just  to see if it goes the same way as the Downing Street petition site which attracted some really pointless suggestions. As campaigners, they’re going to present both challengs and opportunities. New ways of inviting campaigners to use their voice, but formats that can be difficult to engage in (the Spending Challenge doesn’t have an option to let people say what they think should be kept for example) and are untested in terms of impact on government policy.

Getting to know the Conservatives

Whatever happens in the upcoming General Election (and as a personal disclaimer at this point I’m doing what I can to get as many Labour MPs elected) it’s clear that while many campaigners have got comfortable working with a Labour government, but know less about how to effectively influence the Conservative party.
Here are my 3 suggestions to campaigners wanting to get to know the party that might form the next government.
1 – Get the daily lowdown on what’s happening
Signing up for the Conservative Home daily e-mails is the best place to get the intelligence on what MPs, councillors and activists are thinking and doing.
A day doesn’t seem to go by without the site featuring an announcement from a front-bench minister or the release of a new report or study. A valuable investment of 5 minutes each day and it costs nothing.
For other useful Conservative blogs to look at have a look at the top 100 right-of-centre blogs as voted by the readers of Iain Dale.
2 – Get to know the key players and who influences them
Being able to do an effective power analysis is central to good campaigning, and once again the people behind Conservative Home have excelled themselves producing this excellent wall chart which helps you understand who’s who in the Conservative Party. If you’ve got more money to spend, they’ll also provide you with a whole host of other useful resources.
Useful books to read include the very accessible ‘Cameron and the Rise of the New Conservatives‘ by Francis Elliot, the more academic ‘The Conservatives under David Cameron: Built to Last?‘ edited by Simon Lee and ‘Cameron on Cameron‘ by Dylan Jones.
3 – Find out about the fresh intake of MPs
Lots has been written that one of the defining features of the next Parliament will be the large number of new MPs. The Conservative website has a decent list of all its PPC, and a number of polling companies have put together reports profiling those that are most likely to get elected, like this one from Insight PA.
Even better more and more are embracing social media and have their own blogs, facebook pages and twitter accounts (here is a list from tweetminster). A quick search and you can find out all sorts about what they think on your campaign issue.