How are new MPs adjusting to campaign tactics?

Parliament rose for the summer recess this week, and it’s been interesting to see how the new (and some returning MPs) have responded to all the campaigning actions that they’ve been on the receiving end of.

Exhibit A is an Early Day Motion (EDM) from the new Conservative MP for Weaver Vale, Graham Evans, who ironically used an EDM to criticise the effectiveness of them. Evan’s argues that;

this House regrets the continuing decline in importance of Early Day Motions which have become a campaign tool for external organisations; notes the role of public affairs professionals in drafting Early Day Motions and encouraging members of the organisations they represent to send pro forma emails and postcards to hon. Members; further notes the huge volume of correspondence that this generates and the consequent office and postage costs incurred; believes that the organisations involved derive little benefit from Early Day Motions, which very rarely have any influence on policy;

Only 22 MPs signed onto it although many of them are from the new intake of Conservative MPs, which might signal a disinterest in using them as a tool to register their support for an issue in the future.

Many campaigners have long discussed the effectiveness of EDMs, described by some MPs, who refuse to sign onto them viewing them as a form of ‘parliamentary graffiti’, but others see them as a useful way of demonstrating support for an issue, and a way of giving MPs a specific action to take to demonstrate support for an issue. ConservativeHome has more on the EDM and a counter one from another Conservative MP, plus an interesting case study of how an EDM started a campaign to keep the General Election Night Special, although this came as a result of a campaign that was initiated and of particular interest to MPs.

Exhbit B is this recent report in Third Sector magazine from a Media Trust event at which Charles Walker MP, a backbench Conservative MP commented that ‘Charities often write to MPs asking us to write to ministers to express their disquiet. They assume their concerns must be our concerns. That’s almost bullying, to be honest. Lots of the lobbying MPs are subjected to is blunt and cackhanded’

Going on to say that some charities, such as Macmillan Cancer Support and a local hospice charity in his constituency, were very good at communicating with him. Inviting him to events they are holding locally and saying “It’s almost impossible for an MP to turn down an invitation from a charity that is doing good work in his or her constituency.”

It’s too early to tell if the new batch of MPs are going to be more or less receptive to popular campaigning, but these two examples should perhaps challenge campaigning organisatons to think afresh about the tactics and approaches that are going to use to influence the new (and old) intake.

‘Your Freedom’ and better campaigning

The new coalition government seems to have gone a little crazy when it comes to website consultations. In the last few weeks we’ve had them announce ‘Spending Challenge‘ and ‘Your Freedom‘, with no doubt more to come in future weeks.
They’d say its all part of their new agenda of engaging with the public and moving away from a top-down approach, although the cynic in me says that it’s a good PR opportunity. No doubt time will tell if they provide good opportunities for campaigners, or if they’re just a diversion to provide some semblance of consultation but ultimately to ignore what people are saying.
However one process that campaigners should be interested in is ‘Your Freedom’ where the government is asking for what laws and regulations they should get rid of. High up on my list would be parts of the Serious and Organised Crime Policing Act (SOCPA for short).
Much has been written about the restrictions placed on campaigning by SOCPA, the need to give 6 days  notice to register to protest in Westminster, the arbitaroty 1 mile limit around Parliament and the way that its systematically made it harder to protest.Comedian Mark Thomas has shown the absurdity of much of the law, but the ‘Your Freedom’ consultation provides another way to reduce much of its impact.
Looking at the draft legislation, it repeals some of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (SOCPA) 2005 including the restriction of protests close to parliament. It also restricts CCTV use to investigation of serious crimes, repeals the 2005 Terrorism Act and restores the definition of a public assembly to 20 people rather than 2.
However, the draft does not as yet provide protection against the myriad other laws used to restrict campaigning – such as the Public Order Act (1986) which can be used to move the site of a protest, trespass laws used against people collecting petitions in shopping centres, harassment legislation that which bans “seeking to persuade someone not to do something that he is entitled or required to do” and terrorism legislation of 2006 which categorises non violent activists who damage property as terrorists.
The recent NCVO ‘Future Trends in Campaigning‘ publication highlighted the ‘marginalisation of dissent’ as a emerging trend for campaigners to address , so engaging with this consultation (whatever you think of its method) and also supporting the work of groups like BOND and NCVO in engaging on this should be hight up on the ‘to do’ list for campaigners to remove some these absurd laws to prevent this trend coming true.
Going forward it’ll be interesting to monitor the opportunities that the consultations provide to actually influence government policy. Campaigners should be watching to see how many of the most popular suggestiosn get acted upon, or just  to see if it goes the same way as the Downing Street petition site which attracted some really pointless suggestions. As campaigners, they’re going to present both challengs and opportunities. New ways of inviting campaigners to use their voice, but formats that can be difficult to engage in (the Spending Challenge doesn’t have an option to let people say what they think should be kept for example) and are untested in terms of impact on government policy.