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How to engage with parliamentary candidates

A lot of charities target sitting MPs in many of their campaigning efforts. However it’s also important to engage prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs), particularly before an election.

Parliamentary candidates could replace current MPs, especially in marginal seats. Engaging PPCs from all sides of the political spectrum when appropriate can demonstrate that you are complying with charity law, the Charity Commission guidance, and the Lobbying Act requiring charities to remain politically neutral. It also ensures that your organisation’s voice is heard, no matter who is in Government.

Here are some tips on how to engage PPCs effectively:

1

Make it relevant

Tell the candidate why the issue you’re working on should matter to them specifically and what s/he can do to help. Why are you writing to this candidate and not another? Why is it an issue for them and not a local councillor or someone else? What is it about the candidate or the constituency that means your issue is one they should be particularly keen to take up? Glossy policy reports that do not contain locally specific information are likely to be ignored.

2

Keep it short and targeted

It’s important to remember that PPCs very rarely have any administrative back-up – they are one-person bands operating without staff – so think carefully about what you’re sending them. None of us wants our inboxes clogged up with long emails of no relevance to us and candidates are no different. Avoid mass mailings to all candidates in favour of targeted material tailored to the interests of the individual.

3

Make it actionable

Always think in terms of action. PPCs often receive well-intentioned communications from the sector that tell them at length why they should care about this or that issue. Candidates don’t need to be told to care – most of them already care deeply about many issues, that’s why they are standing for Parliament. They want to be told what they can do to tackle the issue in the constituency.

4

Make it local

The need to demonstrate a local angle cannot be emphasised enough. An issue of local relevance is much more likely to grab the candidate’s attention than an issue of general concern. Take the issue of the living wage, for example. Many PPCs don’t need to be told that the living wage is a good idea, or that there are a great many people in the UK who would benefit from its introduction. What many of them are most interested in is how many people in their constituency would benefit from a living wage, which local employers already pay it, and which don’t.

 

As well as making sure you present a local angle to your issue, your approach will also be much more effective if it is made by a local person. Therefore your election campaigning should include supporting local members, supporters and activists to approach local candidates. PPCs are more likely to take the time to engage with local people than they are with staff from head office.

5

Give the candidate an offer

Avoid writing to candidates simply to elicit their views about an issue. If you do that, the most likely response you’ll get is a bland standard reply. A letter from the candidate reiterating his or her party line is no use to you and a waste of time for them. Also keep in mind that some MPs and candidates are not a fan of charity manifestos - they would much prefer organisations to talk to them about one of two focused issues than to publish a long wishlist of policies.

 

Instead, give the candidate something to do that will be interesting and beneficial for them as well as for you. For example, candidates are always interested in meeting local voters; organise a visit to a local group, service or event where the candidate can meet local people and you will have the opportunity to discuss his or her views on your issue. Giving candidates the opportunity to meet and hear directly from people with lived experience of this or that policy is a powerful way of engaging their interest in your campaign.

6

Build a relationship

Don’t ignore candidates in favour of focusing all of your efforts on influencing MPs. Candidates – many of whom will become MPs – tend to notice if an organisation privileges sitting MPs, especially if the organisation’s activities lead to positive local press coverage for their opponent. Newly elected MPs will be less well-inclined towards you and your organisation if they think you ignored them during the election.

 

Above all, you need to understand why you’re engaging with candidates: to sow the seeds of relationships with future MPs. You don’t have to engage with every candidate (it would be very resource-intensive to do so). Identify who is likely to get elected and match them to the constituencies in which you have the capacity to mobilise supporters and local groups.

Further information

Emma Taggart, founder and director of Emma Taggart Consulting, is the author of this guide, which originally appeared on her blog. You can find Emma on Twitter.

NCVO published a guide for the voluntary sector – ‘General Election 2015’ – that has a chapter on ‘How to campaign locally’ (free for NCVO members).

Knowhow Nonprofit also has a section on local campaigning and influencing.

Find information about sitting MPs and local candidates in these websites: They Work For You and UK General Election 2015.

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Page last edited Sep 12, 2017 History

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