Paul Bowers writes on how to write to MPs in this piece. In private conversations it’s clear that most MPs do take account of issues raised by constituents in correspondence. They won’t respond, “thank you, I’ve changed my opinion.” But the points you made in your letter are now in their mind. They influence that person over time, shaping how they see future events.
You will often receive a standard response or a statement of the party line.
But why does the odd MP break ranks? Often because they see that the party line is losing them potential votes. Or because a constituent has raised a serious material problem, contradiction or injustice. That might not come immediately. It might not come at all. But fail to raise the issue, and you can’t complain that your MP seems ignorant of it. And what you don’t see is the private lobbying of Ministers by backbenchers, in corridors and coffee rooms, in party meetings, constituency visits and the dull debates we don’t watch.
This is the difference between influence and control.
How can you increase your chances of writing an influential letter?
1. Stick to what you know
You will find it easier to write, you will be more convincing, and you are more likely to be listened to if you write from experience. It doesn’t matter what that experience is. It will create a punchier piece than if you string together hearsay.
2. Likewise, cite your credentials: in what capacity are you writing?
If you run a business affected by Brexit, that will grab the MP’s attention.
But even something as simple as this would do: “one of my daughter’s children benefitted from the Erasmus scheme. The younger one cannot. This has placed a barrier between them.”
3. Rely on the power of your points
Simple factual points in unadorned language hit harder. They build momentum through the letter. Opinion can be flatly rejected. Slanted characterisation too. A pile of facts is harder to resist, it gets the reader’s attention and can move them at least towards accepting your premise. This takes us to the next point.
4. Stress practical effects over ideology
MPs have two sides: the ideologue and the pragmatist. Your job is to sidestep the former and appeal to the latter.
If you meet a politician with a broad argument of principle, you invite a prepared speech in return. Citing Marx at a Conservative will get as far as arguing privatisation to a Corbynite.
If you show that you, their constituent, encounter a problem as a result of a policy they support, you give them something practical to engage with, and something about which you know more than them.
For crying out loud, just don’t rant, OK?!?
The culture in Parliament, Government and civil service is actually quite understated outside of game-shows like PMQs.
Clearly, being directly abusive is the best way not to achieve anything. You’ll just give a junior staffer a laugh as they chuck your scrawl in the bin.
But even non-abusive hyperbole is ineffective.
A strong statement that can be evidenced is one thing (“Brexit is the single most damaging policy I have witnessed”), but “the annihilation of model railway hobbyists is clearly another example of this appalling Government’s plans to absolutely destroy the UK” is a waste of a perfectly good point. Try, “this obstacle to a much-loved hobby for so many people is a small but telling reminder of the everyday impact of these policies.”
6. What’s your main point?
Work out the gist of what you’re arguing before writing. Jot down your points, free-form, and chew them over for a bit. What really is the heart of your argument? Democracy has been damaged? The economy has been hit? And does “economy” relate to SMEs or GDP or inflation or empty shelves in Tesco?
Once you know what you’re really getting at, you can marshal your material to support the argument. You can also build a rhythm. Each block of facts can be tied up with a phrase relating it back to your “gist”. And ideally, enriching it, deepening it, moving it forward.
If you keep your focus, you control the potential scope of the answer.
7. Make it credible
Facts and figures are valuable additions. Make sure to check them. Get the name of the Act right, the years for the GDP comparison, the exact wording of the quotation.
The best sorts of figures include well-known economic indicators and time-series comparisons (eg, hate crimes have increased x% since 2016). International comparisons can sometimes help, although they are always open to the counter-argument that the context in the other country is different.
At the moment, we are seeing dramatic figures for decline in trade: comparative percentages will often work better than disembodied numbers. A 12% decline (on last year? last month?) is probably better than £1.2m losses. (There are always exceptions, as when we learned that around $1.6tn in assets had moved to the continent!)
If you can, cite Government policy back at them. “The Prime Minister stated in 2020 that ‘blah’. How does the Albania deal square with that undertaking?” Or cite the Government in support of your argument. “The Trade Secretary said at last year’s party conference, ‘blah-blah’. Sanctions against Russia would serve this aim.”
When writing to your MP, cite the fact that you are a constituent and give your address.
There’s almost no point at all writing to some other MP: they’re not supposed to interfere in each other’s constituencies, and are far too busy to do so. The sole exceptions are Government Ministers, leaders of parties to which you belong, or in a few cases those MPs who become closely associated with a national campaign.
If you write to a Minister, it is better to use their departmental address, not their MP email. You can find the departmental details with a Google search.