A short piece I wrote for Insight Public Affairs’s 2008/9 guide to lobbying:
I developed an aversion to lobbyists when I was a candidate for election to Parliament. Given it is the job of lobbyists to seduce actual and would-be MPs, so that they will regard their cause or client favourably, you might think something had gone wrong. It had!
And it’s a shame – because so many of the organisations and causes that lobbied me had views that should have found me a willing audience.
What went wrong? Generally lobbyists didn’t understand how and when to present their case. As it’s simplest – candidates in elections are at their very busiest in the immediate run-up to an election. So is that the best time to approach? No! Yet many organisations stay quiet for four years and then suddenly think the four weeks of a general election are the best time to make contact. There are good and bad times all through the Parliamentary cycle – and you’ve got to know them.
And the amount of money organisations pour into the glossy brochures and lobby companies needs to be well spent. From what I could see – it was more about the lobbyists ticking boxes and telling their clients that they had contacts x-thousand of candidates and had x responses.
No – my advice to those who seek my support is to think about me. Think about my time commitment. Think what will really benefit the cause – and what you really want me to do, and how to break it down into simple, easy to get started requests. Then you will build up a dialogue and in time a long-term relationship.
My life is over-flowing with information. You may want me to take onboard your information, but what’s the reason why I should? No matter how worthy your cause or how persuasive your case – there is not enough time in the day for me to take on board every worthwhile or relevant scrap of information. So how do you make your own cause really stand out?
You have to know me, and think of me as a person – not as one of a group of MPs or candidates. It’s not all touchy feely by any means. Top statistics to support a cause are the absolute bees knees for me personally. The lobbyists who provide local statistics, local activities, local information etc – they are the ones who really get through.
Tick box campaigning begets tick box support. Make it real. Make it worthwhile. Make it genuine. I am nobody’s fodder!
Thousand percent agreement on this.A few years ago I wrote something similiar in one of a series of factsheets for voluntary organisations put out by my local Council of Voluntary Organisations. Given that one of the in-between-election activities of PPCs is actually to try to make contact with local voluntary bodies (and how difficult this can sometimes be) there is surely room for some convergence of interests – if the professional lobbyist industry can be sidelined. I suspect I am not the only activist who has been given the election-time job of collecting the reams and reams of glossy material and e-mail survey demands dumped on a Parliamentary candidate and providing a summary ‘on half a sheet of paper’ on the aggregate of what has come in and whether there are any firecrachers likely to emerge (say) at hustings sessions.