How to have maximum influence on politicians
Many people feel they have no say at all in what the government decides to do. Government policy seems to be hammered out in a world of its own among party leaders, a few influential MPs, and a select group of privileged and well-connected individuals who know how to pull strings in high places.
Often, in fact, our ‘democratic’ system seems to work like this: Top-Down Politics
In the most extreme form of this style of politics, the Prime Minister tells the Cabinet what to do, the PM and the Cabinet tell Parliament what to do, and these three august bodies tell you and me what to do. Meanwhile, a few influential people have the privileged position of being able to put some pressure on the PM and cabinet ministers. These are usually powerful business leaders, the heads of some of the larger NGOs, and perhaps a few religious or community leaders.
Ordinary people have virtually no power or influence at all.
But this isn’t how our democratic system is meant to function. In point of fact, ordinary voters like you and me have all the power. The voters hire and fire the politicians when we cast our votes. But we have even more power than that, because MPs and their party bosses know full well that they can only stay in power if they keep in favour with their voters. So, not only do we hire and fire them, we can also instruct them on matters of policy and parliamentary voting at all times in the electoral cycle.
This is how the system really looks: People-led Politics
The thing an MP most needs assurance of is that his or her majority is safe. They listen very carefully to the signals from their electorates. They don’t just want to know what you think and what you feel; they want to know what you feel strongly enough about to let it influence your vote.
Take, for example, the Climate Change issue. The Labour government has begun to make significant moves toward setting up a framework to reduce the UK’s greenhouse emissions by 60 percent by the year 2050. This is a positive move, but it has two main weaknesses: 1. 60 percent reductions by 2050 don’t go far enough, and 2. The government has also committed itself to policies that will impede the reductions – e.g. widening of motorways and a massive expansion in air traffic.
Left to itself and its privileged lobbyists, the government might never meet its greenhouse gas reduction obligations. So, what do we have to do? We have to train people everywhere to instruct their politicians to legislate for a strong and scientifically sound greenhouse gas reduction regime.
We must not just ask politicians what their views are on the subject, but tell them what our views are – and because our views are worked out (carefully and openly) in the light of the best climate change science, we must make it clear to them that the climate’s needs are non-negotiable. And we must tell them that when the next election cycle comes around, our vote can only go to a candidate whose party is unequivocally committed to legislation that goes at least this far towards cutting greenhouse gases.
We need to train people everywhere to talk to their politicians like this.
In the UK there’s a strange anomaly in the voting system. Most electorates stay with the same party from election to election. They’re either safe Labour, safe Conservative, safe Lib-Dem, safe SNP or safe DUP. Politicians in those electorates aren’t particularly worried about an issue like this. Their constituency will most likely vote them back into power no matter what.
But there’s another group of electorates, known as the ‘marginals.’ These are the districts with a more finely balanced distribution of voters. Some are currently held by Labour, but with a small swing they could go Conservative. Some are Lib-Dem, but with a small swing they could go Labour – and so on. In these seats the MPs really have to be on their toes. Your impact on your MP in these seats can be huge, compared to that of people in a safe seat.
The party bosses are always worried about the marginals – they even talk about the ‘super-marginals’, those 50 or 60 seats that are balanced on a knife-edge and that could easily decide who wins the next election. They know full well that the party that wins an election is the party that wins the super-marginals and the marginals. They listen very carefully to what voters in these seats have to say.
So we need to focus our resources quite deliberately in key marginal seats. Certainly we should keep reaching out to people everywhere, train and encourage voters in every seat to tell their politicians what they want, but we will maximise our resources if we do this in a much more concentrated way in the marginals.
You can use this website to find out which seats near you are marginal, and between which parties.