Does writing to your MP actually work?
Would it surprise you to know that politicians are considered less trustworthy than journalists and estate agents? In its annual survey of trusted professions, Ipsos MORI reported only 21% of respondents claimed they would generally trust politicians to tell the truth.
This is a problem – and has been for the past 33 years.
A lack of trust in politicians can be linked to a lack of engagement with politics more generally. But should the fact that we often don’t trust our politicians impact whether we perceive them as useful?
After all, I am no huge fan of trips to the dentist or jogging, and I’ve never met a broccoli I would trust, yet, this doesn’t stop me from using these to advance the cause of my own health.
So maybe it’s time to stop waiting for politicians to top the popularity polls, and start seeing them more as a vital resource to advance our causes.
So, what can they do for us and how best can we best work with them? Here a few suggestions:
You only get one MP – but it’s their job to listen to you
An important point to keep in mind about the British Parliament is that it works on a constituency basis. This means your MP represents one area and everyone living in that area.
This is significant because regardless of your MP’s party and regardless of whether you voted for them or not, they have to represent you and respond to your communications. Your MP may not always agree with you, and you them, and indeed they may represent you in ways that you do not agree with, but, it is still their job to explain to you why.
What can your MP do?
What your MP can do on an issue often depends on their role (more on that later). However, all MPs have a minimum amount of actions they can do regardless of their position.
This is the important bit: all MPs can table written questions – these questions will go to the most relevant Government Minister (foreign issues to the Foreign Secretary, issues on prisons to the Justice Secretary etc) – and there is no need for MPs to agree with the sentiment of your question in order to table it.
However, it does have to be neutral and not obviously combative or disdainful to be allowed. If MPs are sympathetic to an issue they can also ask a question in person in the Chamber at Oral Questions, which rotate between the different Government departments monthly.
MPs also have the ability to write or talk to a Minister, so even if your MP isn’t the Foreign Secretary or Defence Secretary, he or she can take your question directly to them and feed back to you.
It’s always good to remember that MPs prefer to tackle issues that directly affect their constituents (the people that live in their area) or those which a lot of their constituents care about. The more you can demonstrate that a lot of people in your area want the change you’re asking for, the more an MP will be influenced to act.
Research your MP
Before contacting your MP it is always a good idea to know a bit about them. Their positions in Government or the Opposition front benches, whether they sit on committees, and even their stated political interests can all be found on Parliament’s website at www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/
For more in-depth research into how your MP has voted, what questions they have asked, and what statements they have made in Parliament you can use the website www.theyworkforyou.com
Your MP can have more, or less, power than others
Because of our political system, MPs can be both legislators (making laws) and executives (governing and making policy). Sometimes MPs can be Foreign Ministers, or Home Office Ministers or even the Prime Minister. And other times they can hold powerful scrutiny positions on Parliament’s many Select Committees, that challenge the Government on areas of policy.
Finding out who your MP is and what roles they have in Government, in Parliament or in their Political Party can help you shape the change you want. Ministers have more power to change policies or actions, Committee members can challenge the Government on areas they focus on, and senior Party MPs can shape their party’s policy.
…but this can change
In Parliament and politics fortunes can change in months, years or decades – and your influence as a constituent can change just as quickly or slowly. A strong relationship built now could pay dividends in years or decades to come.
For 32 years the people of Islington North were represented by a backbench Labour MP and frequent rebel of his own party’s government. They are now represented by the leader of the Labour Party.
For five years, the people of Witney were represented by the Leader of the Conservative Party, and for six the Prime Minister. They are now represented by a newly elected backbench Conservative MP starting out on his path in Westminster.
Human Rights and MPs
We know that UK-made weaponry is being used by the Saudi-led coalition to carry out air strikes on Yemen, possibly claiming thousands of Yemeni lives. We need you to write to your MP to call on the Government to end the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia immediately.
The aim is to show your MP their constituents feel strongly about this issue, and it should compel them to act.
Taking one action at one point in time may seem insignificant, but change comes from sustained pressure over time, from a collective voice - of which you are one.
In short, you are not alone. You are part of a movement – with power. Let’s use that power.
So, just like trips to the dentist, jogging and even the dreaded broccoli – stick with it, be consistent, and the desired change will come.
Kieran Aldred is Advocacy Officer at Amnesty International UK
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.