Writing to your Member of Parliament* is a fairly standard part of being engaged in politics. Sometimes it does very little – you are only one constituent out of at least 70,000, and beside which, your representative is balancing constituency opinion with the views of their political party and their own conscience. Occasionally it can make a big difference – generally if many other constituents also write in, and all share the same view.
Here are some basic tips for writing.
Before you write
- Who are you contacting? Is your MP the best person to ask? As you’ll know if you followed the asterisk in the first paragraph, those in Scotland and Wales are represented by more than one Parliament. Besides which, if this is a purely local issue then your local councillor may have more influence or power.
- Get a sense of the person you are addressing. If you don’t know their view on the issues, have a look at their voting record at http://www.theyworkforyou.com.
When you write your letter
- Make your request clear. Are you asking for a specific action? While some people are happy to reply with their opinions on an issue, others prefer to be asked to do something specific. What do you actually want them to do?
- Detail or big picture? Consider whether the recipient of your letter is more likely to be persuaded by detailed facts or by overarching arguments. Looking at a recent speech or their personal website might help.
- Ask for your letter to be passed on. Particularly with MPs, they might not know any about what you’ve asked them, or want to comment. If you ask for your MP to pass your letter to the Minister then you may receive a more detailed reply – and your letter will be seen by more people.
- Get the tone right for the person. It’s easy to appear to make assumptions about an elected representative’s view, or to appear to be shouting through the text. (All caps are rarely sensible…) Go for a deliberately careful and measured tone.
- But add a personal touch… Tell your MP why you care about the issue. A personal story can be much more powerful and persuasive than generic examples or hypothetical scenarios.
- Include your address. Many elected representatives will only correspond with their own constituents. (They are only permitted to actually take on casework for their own constituents, and it’s considered very rude to spend time talking to another MP’s constituent unless you have a specific reason to do so.)
- Don’t write too often. One every three or four weeks is probably enough. You don’t want the MP’s researcher to sigh every time yet another email from you replies.
- Do keep writing, though! A slow and steady correspondence can sometimes change opinions. Think long term and recognise that sometimes political change takes a long time.
- Remember who is actually replying. The letters are very rarely answered solely by the elected representative. Sometimes it will be completely written by a member of staff, sometimes it will be a mix. However, you could think of this as holding a conversation with future MPs – Matt Hancock used to answer letters for George Osborne, for example.
- Don’t be too disheartened. It might be that your MP doesn’t agree with you and isn’t open to your arguments. Try to find shared values and acknowledge that many people do have different views, and so your MP could be representing the views of others in the constituency very well.
* MP, standing for Member of Parliament, is used for those elected to the UK Parliament in Westminster. People living in Scotland will also have the option to write to Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs), those in Wales the option of Members of the Welsh Parliament (MWPs), and those in Northern Ireland the option of the NI Assembly (AMs), if the NI Assembly is sitting.