But then, we don’t really talk to them. Some of us do though. It’s very easy now with social media. You can even tweet animated gifs at your MP. There are plenty to choose from, but it might be better to DM them, or email them. If you really want to go overboard, you can go out and buy a pen and some paper from WH Smith or some other stationery outlet.
You’ll also need an envelope and a stamp, and when you’ve written your letter and addressed it you’ll need to put it in one of these red things you may have noticed about the place.
Whatever your chosen method of contact, and you can try in person (MPs all have surgeries that anyone can just turn up at), it’s probably good practice to make an effort to speak to someone before you accuse them of not listening.
Maybe the politicians who rise to the top of the barrel aren’t the best that Parliament has to offer. The ones we hear most about may not be representative of the rest. Among the 650 MPs, there may be some who are reasonable and intelligent people who know a good idea when they hear one and if you approach them with your well worked out policy proposal they might think, or even say out loud
Hey, what’s going on? I’m not being insulted or abused or asked to do something impossible with part of my anatomy. There must be a catch, but if there is, I can’t see it. This is indeed a most excellent policy proposal that I must draw to the attention of Parliament forthwith.
Even if that’s not quite what they say, it’s still worth getting in touch with them. They’re just people, and if you’re their constituent they’re required to respond to you, though you should give your name and address to prove you are a constituent, so if you tweet at them they might not respond. An email or letter is better.
Here are three questions you could try:
- Do you think we should be subsidising fossil fuels?
- Do you think the costs of the damage caused by burning fossil fuels should be included in their price?
- Do you think the poorest in society should be left worse off by our efforts to decarbonise?
If they answer something like
- No, of course not.
then you’re getting somewhere. They’re almost in favour of fee and dividend, or some form of revenue neutral carbon tax. You might want to ask them what policy they’d propose that answers these three questions in the way that they just did.
But sometimes politicians aren’t very good at answering direct questions. Instead of answering the question you ask, they answer the question they wish you’d asked or the question they think you ought to have asked. That can be very annoying, but try to stay cool.
If your MP is a member of a political party, as most are, and even more so if they’re a minister or in the shadow cabinet, they’ll feel they have to stick to the party line and can’t risk being seen to deviate from it. If you suspect that’s the case, you could ask them to direct your questions to the person who has responsibility for this area of policy in their party. If they’re a Tory, that’ll likely be Claire Perry MP, Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, and if they’re Labour it’ll be Rebecca Long-Bailey.
Even if you don’t get a positive response, if you feel you’re being fobbed off with some templated reply, then at least you can say you tried, and if you then want to say that politicians don’t listen, you’ll have some reason for saying that and you can’t be accused of saying it simply because that’s what people say.
What if my MP is ignorant?
If they are, it’s probably best not to tell them, but then don’t expect them to be experts on everything. Climate change might not be an issue they’ve thought deeply about, and that’s why we need to be pushing them to think about it, and to think about policies to tackle it.
Even if your MP has very different political views to you, that’s no reason not to speak to them. Most of us have friends or family members who don’t share our political views, but will still talk to them, don’t we? We don’t think of them as terrible people because they take a different view on some political issue – though, perhaps as a result of social media algorithms, many of us do increasingly think of those whose political views differ from our own as terrible people. Talking to someone, ideally face to face, can help us to see the other person as a decent and honourable human being who happens to think X whilst we think Y.
All MPs are not the same
What bothers me about this blanket dismissal of MPs is what bothers me about the blanket dismissal of any other group of people: the police, bankers, Brexiters, remainers, jews, muslims… You can always find examples of people behaving badly, and there are plenty of examples of MPs behaving badly, but to then extrapolate from that to say that this is a characteristic of all members of that group is lazy thinking.
When it comes to MPs, there’s also the point that we made them MPs by electing them, and even if we personally didn’t vote for them, many other people must have done.
How do lobbyists view MPs?
If you’re a lobbyist for a big corporation or an industry lobby group you’re probably not going to dismiss MPs as not being worth talking to. You’re likely going to have quite specific aims, pushing for or against a particular piece of legislation. You’re going to do some research to assess the views of the MPs you’re targeting and you’re going to calculate what arguments will be most effective in nudging them towards the position you’re lobbying for.
A survey of MPs, asking them how they would lobby themselves if they were charities with limited budgets, found that most thought the most effective form of lobbying would be to build a relationship with MPs and with relevant parliamentary committees.
If we want our politicians to adopt effective and fair policies to tackle what is probably the greatest threat our species faces (and many other species for that matter) then we need to start talking to them. We need to become effective lobbyists. You can’t expect them to listen to you if you don’t talk to them.