It has become common for people working in the international development sector to fear the worst for campaigning and influencing parliament. Growing criticism of the role of charities in the political process, scepticism about the value of UK aid, the prospect of complex Brexit negotiations and fears of economic uncertainty have all taken centre stage in public debates. However, a recent NfP Synergy report has found that, despite these challenges, it is still possible for charities get their voices heard by MPs.
A reassuring finding of the report is the increasing value of constituency-level contact:
"Westminster has become a crowded environment for charities to influence MPs, with more organisations campaigning and competing for MPs’ time. Our latest data from our research with MPs found that over half of MPs (57%) prefer to work with charities in their constituency rather than in Parliament."
The report found that local campaigning is an increasingly effective way – and in some cases, the most important way – to reach backbench MPs. And not only by contacting them in their constituencies, but also by bringing the voice of local people to Westminster. Interviews with MP’s researchers showed that MPs are more likely to attend an event in Parliament if one or more constituent has asked them to go, reflecting a focus in MPs’ offices on the people they represent.
Our mission at RESULTS is to create the public and political will to end poverty by enabling people to exercise their own personal and political power for change. We know full well the immense value of grassroots campaigners in building positive relationships with their elected representatives on the issues they care about, right across the country and across party affiliations. It is great to have this confirmed by parliamentarians themselves.
So don’t let anyone tell you that campaigning doesn’t make any difference! If further evidence were needed, take the work of RESULTS campaigners on the recent replenishment of the Global Fund, which absolutely disproves that suggestion. We have credible evidence that the support of backbench MPs for the life-saving work of the Global Fund was highly influential on the new Secretary of State in the run-up to her first appearance on the world stage to make an announcement that would help set the tone of the UK’s approach to international affairs post-Brexit. Letting her and other ministers know that there was broad public support for a strong UK pledge meant she couldn't ignore this opportunity, and armed with the knowledge of the tremendous impact of the Fund which campaigners helped to provide, she chose to back it, to the tune of £1.1 billion.
RESULTS grassroots are ordinary people, but extraordinary campaigners who are deeply engaged and who speak and act powerfully within their communities. They spend months, and often years, building relationships with their local elected representatives and other decision makers. They read, learn, and actively participate in advocacy so as to become experts, to the point at which they can comfortably hold their own in a debate with the most vociferous opponent. They create political will, and become lifelong champions for international development. And they make change happen.