Writing a letter to your MP is a great way to get our message across. For every constituent who makes the effort to write a letter, MPs often assume there are many more constituents who are concerned about that issue, but don't bother writing.
It is easy to find your local MP and contact details. You can also use writetothem.com which is easy to use and they also keep track (with your help!) of whether the MP replies, so you're more likely to get a response. You can also see how responsive your MP has been to other people writing to them from your constituency.
When contacting your MP, a short, handwritten or printed letter is most effective. Don't send a braindump to your MP. Take the time to edit your letter for brevity and clarity. Try to make a single coherent point. Sometimes, ORG has a briefing document available so send this along with a short personal covering letter. Take the time to write your own letter, in your own words. This letter should ideally give an example of how the legislation will personally effect you as issues that impact their constituents directly are more likely to get an MP's attention.
It is recommended to give an instruction to your MP, e.g. write to the minister on your behalf, rather than just stating your point of view.
Is it effective?
Yes! The more MPs hear about an issue from their constituents, the more likely they are to take action. MPs tend to judge that a huge number of other constituents share the same concern if they receive just one letter on a certain issue.
Sometimes, certain MPs will take the attitude that if the party they represent already has a line on a particular issue, that their job is to represent that party's line to you. However, the more letters they receive, the more likely they are to go and do more background research and develop an opinion of their own. They are more likely to represent their constituency's opinion on a matter instead of a party line if they feel that it is an issue many constituents care about. This is because MPs are often over-worked and need to prioritise their efforts.
If you don't tell your MP your opinion, your MP won't know what it is!
What about ORG’s email campaign letters? Do they work?
Yes: but writing your own letter is much better. Form letters work by volume, personal letters work by showing your investment of time and your knowledge.
A simple but effective way of using ORG’s campaign tools is to follow up your first response from your MP with something more personal and detailed.
Do I need to be an expert?
No! You will often know more about a particular issue than your MP - they often have a wide range of issues to investigate as part of their work, and can't be experts, or even relatively knowledgeable, in all of them - and your MP will be grateful for any information you can provide.
What's more, Parliament is not there to represent the small number of people who experts in any given area. It is there to represent every person in the country, and to represent their opinion. If you have ever read Hansard (the edited verbatim report of proceedings in both Houses) you will realise that expertise in a given area isn't a prerequisite for MPs to voice an opinion in a given area, and therefore you don't need to be an expert either. This is how it's meant to work!
The response you receive will be of one of two types:
- It may be a very personal answer to questions with the promise of action. This is clearly ideal and is great news.
- Or it may be very generic, often the language of the reply will seem to toe the party line and will respond by quoting from official statements. Do not give up, read the letter carefully, see if the questions you asked in your letter have been answered. If not, write back to the MP requesting answers to the questions you asked and, if you are not happy with part of the response, state this clearly but politely. Often this second letter is the one that the MP reads. You will be be amazed at the positive difference in tone you will get in the second response when they realise there is some thing wrong with the generic response.
After your first letter, try to develop a regular correspondence with your MP — it also helps to encourage friends and colleagues who live in the same constituency to write as well.
Don't forget to say 'thank you' whilst you're at it. MPs rarely receive messages of thanks for the work that they undertake on behalf of their constituents. If the MP does help, why not write a quick note?
Following up with a meeting
If you've written to your MP, and maybe followed up a response, it can be worth visiting an MP in person at a surgery. This helps in many ways: it shows time and commitment, you can make your points directly, you can show them what sort of person you are and why you have an interest.
All MPs are different and have different ways of organising their time and their work. But there are some general tips to remember.
- MPs are very busy. Keep letters, phone calls and meetings short and to the point.
- Cultivate a relationship with an MP’s staff. A secretary, caseworker or researcher will often be your first point of contact. These people decide which letters need to be seen by the MP and manage the diary. It’s useful to get them on your side!
- Be polite and courteous. There is nothing to be gained from getting annoyed!
- Do write down any specific comments made by your MP.
- If your MP is keen to work more closely with ORG, please let us know!
- Remember to include your full name and address. You need to make it clear that you are a constituent, and the MP needs to be able to send a reply.
- Write in your own words. Show the politician that you are a real person.
- Keep it short. One side of A4 should be enough.
- If you write your letter by hand, make sure it is legible!
- Stick to one issue per letter.
- Use bullet points to highlight your arguments.
- Include supporting facts to back up your case.
- Above all, make it clear what you are asking the MP to do in response.
- If you print your letter, remember to sign it personally.
- Do ask for a reply.
- Don't write to other MPs, only to your own. MPs aren't required even to read letters from non-constituents and some MPs can get quite uppity about it.
- What happened or has to be done.
- Who is affected, has to do something. The more personal, the better.
- When did or will it happen.
- Who said? Where does the information come from.
Your Name House, Street, Town, Post Code Phone Number MP's Name House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA 1st May 2010 Dear Mrs **** I am concerned about X. This affects me because Y. Summary of the problem in terms that your mum would understand. I would be grateful if you could raise my concerns with Z, who I believe is responsible for these sections of the Bill. If you would like further information on these issues, the following links provide detailed analyses: (links to ORG briefing) Yours sincerely Your Name