20 March 2020
Grassroots lobbying is at the core of SPUC’s pro-life work. This means mobilising our members across the country to take action – and very often this will involve writing to the local MP. For those not used to the idea, it can seem quite a daunting task – or, in this age of petitions and automated emails, an irrelevant one. However, as I explained to delegates at our recent youth conference, writing to MPs is still very important, and something that everyone can do.
Why write to MPs?
SPUC’s approach, based on decades of experience, is that nothing can beat a physical letter sent to your MP. This is backed up by evidence from MPs themselves. Writing in the Guardian, Robert Halfron MP said:
“I have been astounded by just how many emails I get from charities and community bodies.
“The problem is that these charities seem to think that impersonal emails – often with impersonal invitations to attend this or that reception – are the best way of lobbying MPs. Even worse, they seem to regard effective internet campaigning as setting up a website and encouraging a constituent to fill out their name and postcode, so that the MP receives an impersonal computer generated email from said organisation.
"Nothing could be further from the truth"
Instead, he explains: “[If] I get an invite to visit the local branch of an organisation, I will always go. When I get a personalised letter, hand-signed from a chief executive (as opposed to public affairs officer) that contains local statistics and information, how can I not fail to be interested?”
Mr Halfron concluded: “So my final advice to charities and the voluntary sector is this: forget the impersonal emails, move away from computer generated email campaigns, stop sending reams of paper by post. Make it personalised and local, and you will not just have my real support, but that of many other MPs as well (emphasis added).”
Abortion is both a national and a local issue. You could give your MP the latest national figures on abortion and also point out the number of abortions taking place locally (we can give you that figure).
In many cases, we ask our supporters to write to their MP on very specific issues. Our SPUC briefings give you the information you need to write to your MP.
However, what will really make your letter stand out and make an impact on your MP is if you include a personal story or a personal viewpoint in your letter. For example, when writing about assisted suicide you might tell your MP about a relative who would be particularly vulnerable if assisted suicide was legalised. Personal stories speak very loudly to MPs.
Personal letters are far superior to computer generated campaigns. That’s not to say that there’s no place for petitions or campaign emails, but in the hierarchy of effective communication, they are at the bottom and personal letters are at the top.
Reasons to write to MPs
Now you know why writing a personal letter is the best medium, what are we trying to achieve through our letters to MPs? Here’s a few key reasons to write:
- Make your MP aware of issues. MPs are (generally!) generalists, not specialists. Unless they have a special interest in a subject, they are unlikely to know all the details of a particular bill or issue. In this scenario you (with the help of SPUC briefings) are the expert.
- It is possible to change an MP’s mind? Yes, if your MP is staunchly pro-abortion like Stella Creasy or Diana Johnson, writing letters is unlikely to change his or her mind (bar a miracle). But most MPs are not either strongly pro-life or pro-abortion. This can be clearly seen by voting records. The majority of MPs have mixed records or abstentions. It is possible to change an MP’s mind by explaining the implications of a particular bill, or even on a whole issue. This is particularly the case with assisted suicide, where attitudes are less entrenched.
- Remind MPs to vote. It is very important to remind even pro-life MPs that a vote is happening and encourage them to vote. As votes on our issues are generally on private members’ bills, and are not whipped by political parties, they often take place at less busy times in Parliament, for example on a Friday afternoon, when many MPs have already gone back to their constituencies.
- Encourage the pro-life MPs. I often have people saying “my MP is very pro-life, so I don’t need to write to them”. Not so! Some MPs have sacrificed a lot personally and politically for their pro-life stance, so they particularly need our help and encouragement. It also helps them if they can say in Parliament that many of their constituents are writing to them about an issue.
- Show MPs that constituents care about these issues. The reverse is also the case: “my MP is really anti-life, so there’s no point in writing!” Again, it’s really important that even pro-abortion MPs know that their constituents care about these issues. The majority even of those will still politely engage, even if they disagree with you. And it’s worth emphasising again that MPs who are very pro-abortion might be on our side or at least persuadable on assisted suicide. For example, Sir Peter Bottomley MP, who has a pretty bad record on abortion, actually quoted from a letter from a SPUC member in a parliamentary debate when he stood up to oppose assisted suicide. Also, pro-abortion MPs might be persuaded to abstain on a key vote, meaning one less vote for the pro-abortion lobby, if they receive enough letters from pro-life constituents.
- Useful intelligence for us. There are about 150 new MPs, many of whom we as yet know nothing about. Then there’s the 300 odd MPs with a mixed voting record. Getting their views down on paper is really useful intelligence for SPUC.
- Include your name and full address, so they know you’re a constituent
- Give a personal experience/concern. Although we work hard to send you the most up to date information and briefings, sharing any personal stories or concerns that you have can be very effective.
- Be specific about what you would like your MP to do. Try to give your MP something to do. For example, attend a debate, vote a certain way, write to a minister, put down a parliamentary question (this is particularly good with an MP who disagrees with your pro-life stance).
- Ask for a response
- And remember…you almost certainly know more than they do on this issue!