Meeting an MP? The one question you must be ready for
By Claire Mathys
Any change of Government or Prime Minister brings with it new faces for campaigning organisations to meet and win over. It’s vital that you grasp the opportunity and make a strong first impression. However, when organisations meet MPs, there’s one question they get tripped up on far too often, and it leaves the MP frustrated and less inclined to meet them again. Here are my tips to avoid this happening to you.
Typical meeting format
For organisations starting out in political engagement, a meeting with an MP can feel a bit unnerving and a lot of time and energy can go into preparing. The key to a successful meeting – one where everyone involved feels it was productive, inspiring and a good use of their time – is to plan well beforehand and be ready to answer questions.
I’ve accompanied MPs to many meetings with organisations and, although the topics vary, they tend to follow the same pattern:
- Introductions: organisation explains who they are, what they do, who they represent
- Reason for the meeting: setting out of key issues that the organisation is concerned about, sharing of latest data/information and how it’s relevant to the MP
- Dialogue with the MP about these issues: MP will ask questions to explore the issues more deeply and help them develop a viewpoint
- THE ALL-IMPORTANT QUESTION
- Next steps
The all-important question
Once the MP has listened to and understood the organisation’s concerns, their mind will immediately turn to action. They’ll then ask…
“What do you want me to do for you?”
It might seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many organisations turn up to meetings without an answer to this question. You can get so focused on describing the problems that need solving, communicating the case for change and demonstrating your evidence, that you forget to plan for what you want the person in front of you to actually do!
Many MPs are experienced campaigners and will make suggestions for next steps, but most will be juggling many issues they care about and there’s a good chance that yours won’t be top of their agenda. They may suggest the easiest thing, rather than the most effective.
If you want an MP to spend their time helping further your campaign, then it’s in your best interest to think creatively and in advance about what you want them to do.
How to have a good answer to the all-important question
If you want to succeed in influencing policy, you need to put in the leg work. Here are some tips for making sure you make the most of the opportunity when the question comes.
1. Understand the MP’s relative power
MPs can seem very powerful to those on the outside, but there are actually real limits to what they can do by themselves (this is a good thing – it’s democracy!). Their power often lies in their ability to influence others: in Government, Parliament, the media and elsewhere.
Think about the spheres of power and influence of the MP you are meeting and tailor your asks accordingly. Different MPs will be able to help you in different ways. Consider:
- Which party they belong to: the governing party, opposition, or a smaller party
- The length of time they’ve been an MP: if they’ve been in the job a long time they are likely to have a wider network of relationships, with more influence and gravitas
- The credibility they have as an expert in your subject: MPs with a strong track record or experience on an issue will more likely be listened to by other MPs, including from other parties, and the media
- The location and nature of their constituency: if the area is heavily affected by your campaign issue they will have more authority and a greater interest
- Any official roles they have: a party spokesperson or leader has greater power than an ordinary backbencher and, of course, anyone who is part of the Government (Ministers, Secretaries of State, Parliamentary Private Secretaries) has more power in their remit but will also be more restricted in what they can do on other issues
With these factors in mind, you can plan what practical actions the MP can do for you that will have the most impact and build towards your campaign strategy.
2. Have a strategy
Any actions you ask an MP to take should fit into your wider strategy. Things rarely change overnight and that means you need a well-considered strategy with clear objectives and a plan of how to achieve them.
With a good strategy, each political action taken will enable you to chip away, bit by bit, in the same direction. You’ll develop momentum and position your issue so it’s ready for take-up at an opportune time.
Without a strategy, many of the actions an MP might take will have little impact and could end up being a waste of time.
If you’re asking someone to go to the trouble of doing something for you, be sure to make it count.
3. Be realistic
MPs are very busy people. It’s likely that whenever you meet them they will be up to their neck in a lot of different issues and yours could be fairly low down the priority list.
So make sure what you’re asking them to do is realistic – not too time consuming, or beyond the capability or level of interest the MP is likely to have in your issue.
This often means offering to draft things for them which they can adapt, rather than leaving it to them (or their over-stretched staff) to do themselves.
Make it as easy as possible for them to say yes!
4. Prioritise, Prioritise, Prioritise
There may be any number of things you’d like the MP to help you with, on a variety of issues. Prioritise like mad when deciding what you’re going to discuss with the MP and what you’re going to ask them to do.
Ask too much and you may find you don’t get off the starting block.
The key is to only bring up three issues to discuss to any one meeting. You’ll have far more that you could say – but you’ll only muddy the water.
Make the issues you present really clear and concise and make sure your asks flow naturally from them. That way your messages will land and the MP will remember why they said they’d do what they said.
Prioritising can be hard, especially when there are so many things you care deeply about. But it’s really worth it.
This article was first published on impactpolicy.co.uk
ABOUT CLAIRE MATHYS
Claire Mathys is a Policy & Public Affairs consultant, who specialises in helping charities and other social purpose organisations be effective in influencing public policy, whether at a national, regional or local level. Claire has a decade of experience on the front-line of politics, where she worked as a senior adviser to party leaders, Ministers and peers in the House of Lords. She has a rare combination of experience spanning party politics, Parliament and the civil service, giving her expert insight into what is going on behind the scenes.
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