22 February 2017

how to be a better constituent when you write to your MP.

how to be a better constituent when you write to your MP

Recently, with Brexit and Trump and everything else that is happening in the world, I've seen more and more bloggers becoming politically engaged and encouraging their followers to get involved.  I think it's great - I get pretty annoyed by people who take no interest in politics because I think it's so important. I also think it's pretty bloody interesting and can often be more exciting as a drama than anything that's on Netflix at the moment. Although writing about politics is something I won't generally be doing on my blog (honestly, I live and breathe politics, I need a little escape sometimes) I did feel the need to write this post.

I've seen so many comments on social media about just "writing to your MP" that I didn't think it would be a bad idea to help someone get the best response they can. I've worked for an MP now for nearly two years, I deal with all of his correspondence in the first place and so I like to think it's something I know about. I hope, at least *fingers crossed*

And of course, these opinions are mine and mine alone. 


I know this seems like something pretty stupid to say, but so many people forget it I think I spend at least an hour of my day asking people for their address. MPs pretty much never respond to people who aren't their own constituents and there's a strict parliamentary protocol which says they can't take up issues raised from members of other constituencies. You can find out who your MP is here by putting in your postcode. It might not be the MP you think it is - for example when I grew up in Sutton Coldfield, my MP was actually the MP for Erdington. Just do what the website tells you and you can't go too far wrong. You will also more than likely get a bounce back auto e-mail from your MP telling you your message has been received  - read it. Every MP deals with things differently and wants different things from an e-mail, follow the instructions and then nothing will get delayed. 


You might hate the fact that your MP is Labour or Tory, but it doesn't mean you can just write to their neighbour who fits your political beliefs. Your MP is there to help you regardless of who you voted for. 


There are usually around 100,000 constituents to deal with and most MPs have between one and three members of staff. I know we get around 300-500 e-mails a day, which have to be logged and responded to correctly. It's not an impossible amount, but it's it does mean that e-mails are going to be prioritised. When it comes to picking who is going to get the quicker response from a campaign e-mail about puppy farming in Belarus or 89-year-old Mr Smith who has lost his home thanks to flooding due to a mistake by a water company, it's not hard to work out which one is going to come first. 


I have lost count of the number of times someone has e-mailed in saying something like "I think Trump is a horrible person, everyone else in X constituency agrees with me and so you should vote this way..." only for me to go into the inbox and find the next e-mail saying "I think Trump is the best thing to happen to America, everyone else in X constituency agrees with me and so you should vote this way". Remember that you're likely to talk to people who share your values and beliefs. 


I'll quantify this by saying that you shouldn't not write to your MP even if they clearly don't share your views. But if your MP never rebels, don't be surprised when you ask them to rebel and they don't. Someone like Steve Rotherham, for example, would probably need something pretty extreme to go against the Labour party, having not rebelled in the current Parliament, but someone like Kate Hoey would need a little less persuasion. Having said that, MPs do rebel when you can least expect it, but adjust expectations accordingly. Use websites like Public Whip to find out who your MP really is. 


It seems to be an unpopular opinion, but I think the majority of MPs work harder than quite a few people out there. I know the MP I work for regularly works over 12 hour days and then still faces flack if he doesn't go to constituency events on a Saturday and a Sunday, despite having a young family. If you're asking them to go somewhere or do something keep in mind that there are a number of demands on their time. Diaries are often booked up months in advance, it's probably best not to leave it until the day of your parliamentary lobby to ask for a meeting. The more notice you give, the more likely a meeting is. 

Related to this is expecting an MP to know everything about everything. Constituents will write in about a variety of subjects - from Trump to Brexit, to cat breeding to refugees in Syria, to dowry payments and so on. It's not unreasonable for an MP to go and check with a Minister or to get clarification on something. 


This is related to your MP being human, but if you wouldn't swear and scream at the person from British Gas, why would you do it to your MP? I have lost count of the number of times someone has been rude or (usually) sexist to me over the phone and I've had to take time out to go and cry in the loo. One man screamed at me for over half an hour because his name had been spelt with an A instead of an I. 


You can sign a number of campaign e-mails from websites like 38 degrees which will send a standard e-mail to your MP. Many MPs will refuse to respond to them and many who do respond to them will use a standard response. We can get 300 e-mails - all exactly the same - on one subject and it would be impossible to reply with a unique response each time. I personally think petition websites like 38 degrees are the biggest waste of an MP's and a constituent's time and I stand by the idea that if you care enough about a subject, you can write your own e-mail on it. 

And finally, don't let any of that stop you from letting your opinions be heard. MPs do need to hear them. If you're not happy with the response you get, let them know. Remember that MPs are representatives, not delegates. MPs should act according to their judgement, after learning the facts and listening to their constituents. But at the end of the day, it is the responsibility of an MP to come to their own judgement.

I hope I've been of some use!

Annie x

No comments

Post a Comment

Blog Design Created by pipdig