There’s nothing more powerful than speaking to your MP face to face. These conversations are an opportunity to get your points across in real time, to create a human connection and to build trust. Even video calls (e.g. on Zoom) are a big step up from letters, emails or tweets. Face-to-face interactions with MPs are one of the main ways we can talk to them about the CEE Bill and educate them on its contents. Of course, most of us will feel nervous before these conversations, especially if it’s our first time. But with a little preparation you can go in feeling more confident: so read on for some handy tips. As always, the most important thing to remember is that you’re in charge here: your MP is here to serve you!
Get an appointment
If you haven’t been in touch with your MP yet, find their contact information here. Write to them asking for an appointment where you can talk in person or on a video call. These meetings generally last around 15 minutes.
BE PERSISTENT BUT FLEXIBLE
Sometimes it can be difficult to get a meeting, especially if your MP has a high profile. Support staff might say that they are too busy and that there are no appointments left. So you may have to be persistent. Don’t take no for an answer. Make it clear you want to talk to your MP and that you’d like to know how they are going to make that happen. Wherever possible, fit in with your MP’s availability, e.g. say that when a window appears in the diary, you are happy to be contacted at short notice.
How to talk to your MP
MPs talk for a living. They are very skilled at it. This means they can sometimes take over conversations and deviate from the topic. But with a little preparation and a few tricks up your sleeve, you can make sure you stay in control and get what you need.
Before the meeting
You’ll need a plan for the meeting. This doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s good to think of just three main points you want to raise, followed by an “ask”. If you don’t ask, you won’t get! These will vary from MP to MP. So your “ask” might be as simple as a declaration of support for the Bill. But if you think it’s unlikely your MP will come on board immediately, you’ll want to think of a more achievable, short-term goal. That way, it will be easier to arrange a follow-up meeting to discuss the Bill further. A short-term ask might be to talk to a party colleague with responsibility for climate and the environment, it might be to attend a follow-up meeting with your wider community, or it might be on Bill content, e.g. asking the MP to find out what the chances are of remaining at 1.5°C with their party’s current environmental plan.
When planning your three points and your ask, you might want to do a bit of research on your MP. Think about:
- Your MP’s perspective – their interests, plans, allies, and voting record (check out this tool developed by the UK Youth Climate Coalition on MPs’ voting records on climate).
- Other sources of background information, e.g. from Hope For The Future, who can provide a tailored lobbying strategy for your MP on request.
- Researching climate impacts in your area.
Starting the meeting
Your aim is to create a dialogue. This is particularly important because most MPs won’t agree to support the Bill at the end of one meeting. So you need to strike a balance between getting your points across and staying open to your MP’s thoughts and ideas. In your opening gambit make sure you introduce why you’ve organised the meeting and your three main points.
Begin in a friendly and engaging tone and say what you want to talk about as succinctly as you can, e.g. “I’m here to talk about the CEE Bill as I would like you to support it.” Also give a motivation. This might be a more personal reason for supporting the Bill or it might be about how the bill does what other existing or proposed laws don’t. It can also be useful at this point to say what you don’t want to talk about, e.g. “I’m not looking to discuss what’s happening locally. I am thinking nationally here.” This helps nip any deviations by your MP in the bud. Finally, introduce your three main points. Hold onto your “ask” – that’s for the end.
Some key techniques
During the meeting, try to use some of the following techniques to keep the conversation on track and get the responses you want from your MP.
The art of polite interruption
Your MP will probably go off topic. Of course, you don’t want to interrupt them outright, as that will appear rude. You can avoid this by letting them know you are interrupting them.
- Say: “I’m sorry I need to interrupt you there…” or “I’m going to have to bring you back on this. The question I asked was…”
- Use appropriate body language, e.g. hold up a finger or even a whole hand in a stop gesture.
- Match the volume of your MP’s voice – too soft and your MP may talk over you, too loud and you will seem aggressive.
The art of questioning
To make your points, you’ll want to use a combination of statements and questions. Sometimes questions are more effective than statements. By asking an open question, you can find out what your MP’s perspective is. For example, the statement “Net zero by 2050 only gives us a 50% chance of staying below 1.5°C” is easy to pass over and ignore. If instead, you ask “Do you know what our chances of staying below 1.5°C are if we go to net zero by 2050?”, then you make them think. Coming up with an answer themselves will often have more impact on them. Follow-up questions can help get MPs back on track if they have deviated off point.
There are a few key levers you can pull to apply pressure on your MP. As this technique is more assertive, it’s all the more important to keep your tone polite and friendly.
- Show your MP how they are blocking something reasonable, e.g. the fact that the Bill is based on the current science and is supported by scientists, academics and respected organisations.
- Show your MP how they are being inconsistent (this thing they said is inconsistent with that thing they said; their actions are not consistent with their words and promises).
- Show your MP that you have a lot of support behind you and that your view is popular among the voters in their constituency.
Pick your battles
Don’t forget that the ultimate aim is to get your MP to support the CEE Bill. Of course, if your MP doesn’t support the Bill to begin with, you will need to push back on some points in order to convince them. But remember that you don’t have to fight every point, and it’s important not to get overly critical. No one responds well to being contradicted constantly, or to being attacked.
Ending the meeting
Keep an eye on the time. It’s important to get in your “ask” before the end of the meeting. If time is running out and your MP has gone off topic, this is a good moment to use some polite interruption: “I know you don’t have much time, so before we wrap up, I just wanted to ask…”. Establish what the next step is. How will you be in touch? Do you want to arrange another video call?
Town hall meetings
Group meetings with MPs are particularly effective. So encourage others to write to your MP asking for an appointment too. There’s a decent chance your MP will themselves suggest a group meeting. This is known as a town hall meeting, and they are often held online. If they don’t offer a town hall, then one of your group can suggest it.
Town halls are a great opportunity to pool resources. Each of the people in your group can be responsible for preparing a different question. And once you’re in the meeting, you can tag-team and support each other. For more on group campaigning activities such as this, see the section Building a local alliance.
Building a relationship with your MP
Develop an ongoing dialogue with your MP. You can use video calls, town halls and more detailed letters. As you gain confidence, you can ask specific questions about Government or party policy, and show how they don’t go far enough. And you can begin to flesh out the content of the Bill more and more. Where does the MP and their party stand on consumption emissions? How is it addressing the climate and the environment in a joined up fashion? Couldn’t it benefit from a broader mandate for action from the public through a citizens’ assembly? Remember you can get in touch with us any time if you need help with this, or you can attend one of our regular Campaign Shares.
- Watch this video from Hope for the Future video on engaging with your MP. You can also visit the Hope for the Future website and ask for information about campaigning.
- If you need to give a short presentation on the Bill, you can use and adapt these slides from our stump talk [Change LINK to final version when ready].
- Frequently asked questions about the Bill and parliamentary process [LINK]
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