This month, we are ramping up our advocacy efforts to raise support for a pledge from the UK Government to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. Since it was founded in 2001, the Global Fund has saved over 44 million lives, and it needs investment this year to ensure it can save 20 million more lives and take us one step closer to eradicating these three deadly diseases.
In our March conference call, we heard about the impact of TB and why funding and research is needed to end this disease, and in our April conference call, we heard about the work of the Global Fund and the importance of an ambitious UK pledge. Our May conference call was a little different from normal and turned to focus more on the question of how we advocate. This month, we heard from Clare Symonds, our Senior Policy Advocacy Officer on TB, and Vinny Wooding, our Senior Parliamentary Advocacy Officer on TB, about their advocacy for the Global Fund. They gave a great explanation of why their work is important and provided some examples which really brought to life how the three approaches to RESULTS advocacy -Policy, Parliamentary and Grassroots- come together and support each other. We then went into groups to chat about how we engage with our MP and shared tips, advice and ideas for doing so. We split into two groups based on if we felt our MP was supportive of the Global Fund, and international development issues in general, or not.
You can watch the recording of the call here, and read a summary of the group discussions below.
To kick off the discussions, there was an interesting comment about what constitutes ‘supportive’ - is it that your MP is dutiful and sends letters on to Ministers, or is it that they really care about the issue and are invested in taking action? There is no right or wrong way to answer this question, but it may be useful to consider within your own context. A challenge some of us identified is that our MP, who we think should be supportive, doesn't seem to be taking action or responding. The key here is persistence: MPs are really busy and could easily miss messages, especially if on social media. Written, long-form communication - real letters - are always best as all MPs have robust systems to track incoming mail and ensure it is replied to. But this can take time!
Another question that came up was, how do you manage the relationship with your MP if they are supportive of most, but not all, issues you contact them about? If you contact your MP about multiple issues, you may find they are more engaged with some than others. One suggestion is: consider what engagement would be most valuable, and whether it would be appropriate to prioritise different asks. For example, if your MP is already really supportive of an issue, maybe you could prioritise asking them to forward a letter to a Minister. Whereas, if they are not supportive of an issue, maybe you would want to prioritise organising a meeting with them to have time to try and engage with them about it.
Even if your MP has completely opposing views to yours, it’s important to remember that they are people too: you may have to get creative and do your research, but there is usually some common ground that you can find and it’s important to always begin by ‘engaging’ them and making that human connection.
And that’s also true for MPs who have an additional role, such as those who are in the Shadow Cabinet or some kind of Whip or Secretary. These MPs are more difficult to engage with as they are limited in what they can do - for instance, they are not always able to organise or attend debates, depending on the policy area. Yet it’s still important to build a strong relationship with them, as increasing the number of MPs with a working knowledge of development issues in Parliament should be our number one priority and they won’t have those roles forever.
Regardless of whether your MP is supportive of the issues you raise or not, we must still contact them and make our voices as constituents heard, sharing what we care about. And always remember to identify yourself as a constituent! If you feel like you’re not making progress, use all channels at your disposal. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone as their office numbers are public, ask your local MP to submit some questions to a Minister (but not too many), or get creative about how to engage with your MP. Ultimately, no-one wants global poverty and human misery to exist if we can stop it, and often the first step is simply to put an ask to someone who has the power to address it.
Links shared during the call: