Influencing your political representatives

 

This section is specifically designed to provide you with some tips to help you influence your political representatives at a local level and highlight the important work of dietitians to them.

The most important thing to consider is what you want to say and what you want your political representatives to do about it – having a clear message is vital. The BDA have themes and campaigns that you can use as a basis for your contact with politicians, and we will keep details of these updated on the Influencing pages. Alternatively, there may be a more local issue that you wish to raise, such as planned cuts to local dietetic services. You can always contact the BDA team or your local board or branch for more advice and support.

The key to effective lobbying or influencing is building relationships, so even if you don’t have a specific issue to raise, it can be worthwhile simply introducing yourself and your work. Once your representatives know you, it becomes easier to garner their support on issues that arise in the future.

Always remember…

 

  • To contact the right people. MPs, MSPs, AMs, MLAs and Councillors are only allowed to take up cases on behalf of their own constituents. If you are unsure who your representatives are, you can use this handy tool. For councillors, you will want to check on your local authority website. You might also want to contact the relevant council portfolio holder or scrutiny committee, or perhaps the local Health and Wellbeing Board; again information will be on your council’s website. Health matters are devolved so bear that in mind when choosing who to contact. Include your address when writing so they are clear that you are a constituent.
  • To make sure it’s something your representative can help you with. They generally can’t assist with personal issues, court decisions or private disputes.
  • To go through the proper channels first. Normally, a local/regional health board, CCG, local authority or similar will be responsible for the issue you are wanting to raise, so make sure that the issue has been brought to their attention before taking it to an MP, MSP etc. The Influencing Action Pack has lots of handy information on identifying and influencing other stakeholders.
  • To do your research. Politicians will normally have plenty of information about them on their website, and websites such as theyworkforyou.com and the parliament/assembly websites are also good sources. Do they follow a particular diet or have experience of medical issues such as diabetes? Have they asked lots of questions about elderly care issues in the past? Knowing about them and their areas of interest them means you can tailor your message for more impact.
  • That less is more. Trying to cover too many topics or inundating a politician’s office with correspondence is not effective. Keep all communication succinct and to the point.
  • That an issue raised by multiple constituents is more likely to grab a politician’s attention. Encourage your colleagues and patients to contact them as well (if appropriate). In doing so, make sure you’re consistent in what you say.
  • To be polite, even if it’s an issue you are very passionate about. Politicians (like most people!) will not respond well to abuse.
  • To send a copy of your correspondence to the BDA Public Affairs Officer!

 

Constituency Surgeries

The best way to influence a politician is to meet them face to face. You can normally find the contact details and surgery dates on the web. The best method is to call their office to arrange an appointment, and then follow up with an email to confirm your attendance and to outline what it is you want to talk to them about. Some will hold open drop-in surgeries that will operate on a first come first serve basis, but it is still worth writing or calling in advance.

When you meet with your representative, have a clear idea of what you want to discuss, what you want them to do to help, and try to keep things to a few key points. You might have only five or ten minutes or so to speak with them if it is a busy day. Be sure to thank them for meeting with you and give them an opportunity to ask you questions; try not to dominate proceedings!

If it is a matter the politician can assist with, they might agree to write to a minister or raise the issue on your behalf. If this is the case, give them a few weeks to do so before writing to see if they have had a reply or an opportunity to raise the issue. Try to have something to leave with them which outlines your points – the BDA normally provide briefing sheets or pamphlets for issues on which we are campaigning. If not, a short briefing note on one or two sides of A4 is ideal. You could also invite them to visit your service to learn more (see below).

Writing to your political representatives

If you can’t meet your local representative, you can write to them to set out your concerns or views. A hard copy letter is best as surveys show it is still the most read form of correspondence, but an email is also good (ideally do both). Make it clear what the issue is and what you would like them to do about it. Try if at all possible to restrict yourself to one side of A4.

Politicians (or their caseworkers) respond to nearly all correspondence from constituents, normally within a few weeks (although they may be slower at busy times of the year or during recess). If you don’t hear back within three weeks, give their constituency office a call, and ask whether progress has been made with your letter.

The BDA will from time to time include an example letter as part of a campaign or theme. You can use this as the basis for your own letter, but it is always better to write in your own style rather than sending a template. Politician’s offices are much more likely to ignore correspondence if they receive a number of identical looking letters.

Organise a visit

If you really want to engage with a politician, you could invite them to visit your service. This can be a great way to highlight positive work you are doing, a service that is under threat or generate local media interest in dietetics. Politicians are normally only interested in services that affect their constituents, so bear that in mind. Although a politician will, for example, visit a hospital that is not in their constituency if it serves a whole area, you are more likely to have success if the meeting takes place in their constituency.

You could include such an invitation in a letter or email, or bring it up as part of your meeting at a constituency surgery (if you live in the constituency where you work). You might need to follow up and pester their office to ensure your visit goes in the diary. Politicians’ diaries are extremely busy, and they will often need to be in Parliament/Assembly during most of the week. Flexibility is key. Fridays, when politicians normally return to their constituencies, are when you are most likely to secure a visit. Local councillors will generally have slightly more flexibility, but most have other jobs.

Make sure you have the appropriate permissions from your employers before inviting the politician, and that you have some interesting things on the agenda to highlight to them. Make sure you share a running order for the visit with their office in advance so they know what to expect. Brief your colleagues ahead of the visit about what you are seeking to promote or discuss; it’s important to be consistent in your message. Avoid nasty surprises, and don’t aim to ambush them with difficult questions; this isn’t constructive.

It might be that the visit is fairly short, perhaps only half an hour to an hour so aim to pack a few things in. In bigger constituencies allow some flexibility in your agenda as politicians will often be late, or need to rush off early to make other appointments. They will probably bring at least one member of their staff with them – these are good people to know as they will do most of the legwork in the constituency.

Make sure you have access to a camera so you can record the visit and use in follow-up media releases, social media or newsletters. The politician will normally be very keen to highlight the visit on social media and on their website. Make sure you follow up the visit by email or phone to thank them for attending and perhaps provide a more detailed briefing – and share the photos!

We can help

If you want advice or support in contacting or influencing your local representatives or on a campaigning issue, please contact Tom Embury, the BDA Public Affairs Officer at t.embury@bda.uk.com.

We’d also be really grateful if you could copy any communication you have with your politicians to us so we can keep a track of how and who we are influencing.