In New Zealand we hold general elections every 3 years, where we voice what’s important to us as a country. But voting isn’t the only way to participate in democracy.
You can also lobby your local MPs directly on what issues matter to you, and how they can earn your vote. You can do this any time, but it’s especially effective and important during an Election year.
The PSA has a membership of 63,000 and growing, so your voice has the power and support of every member behind it. Now is a crucial time to ensure that MPs not only know what our priorities are as an organisation, but that we expect them to make a commitment to change.
Never underestimate the importance of personal interaction with your local MP. They value the voices of their constituents and take your words with them when they enter parliament.
This guide will give you some tips about lobbying your local MPs.
Step one – Decide what you want to lobby about
When you choose to lobby an MP you need to have a clear subject and a clear action for them to take. Choose a topic that aligns with their portfolios. Choose something that matters to you. Just as important as speaking to the MP with the right portfolio, you also need to care about the issue. How does it impact your work or your life? These personal stories will help make your case, and will support your other messaging.
We recommend you look at the PSA election asks, (insert link here) which have been developed based on input from delegates and members throughout the PSA. Choose an area that matches with your local MP’s portfolios and your personal interests or experiences.
Step two – do your research
Research can seem like a bit of a process but it is worth it, the more you know about the MPs you are lobbying the more successful you will be.
Identify your local MPs
Look up who the MPs are in your region. They are your best bet, because they want to hear from the people in the region they represent. Check the size of their majority (this can be found on the parliament.govt.nz website) and how long they have held a seat in parliament. If they hold a large margin they may be less likely to be swayed by the pressure of lobbying. An MP with a new seat or a smaller margin is more likely to take the time to listen and take action.
What are their areas of interest?
MPs have portfolios they are responsible for. Check what your MP is the spokesperson for, and whether or not they are on any select committees. This will be useful to help you decide what to talk to them about. If you meet with them about their roles they will have more power to represent you, both within their party and within parliament.
What is their party’s position?
All MPs are instructed to vote in line with their party’s position. Sometimes MPs will have to choose between voting with their party or their constituency. When lobbying an MP it is your job to convince them that why your position reflects the interest of the electorate and why they must take action.
Step Three – Decide on how you are going to lobby your MP
There a 3 ways you can lobby your local politician:
- By letter.
- By phone.
- An in-person meeting.
Each has strengths and weaknesses. We recommend in-person meetings if you can get them, as they are the most effective form of lobbying. However, letter writing and phone calls can still have impact, especially in larger numbers.
Letter writing to MPs/Members of Parliament
This is a great group activity that you can get others involved in, but each letter must be individually written. Form letters lose impact quickly.
Visit www.parliament.govt.nz to get your MP’s postal address.
Tips for writing your letter
- Include your contact details.
- State your issue in the introduction.
- Keep it brief – letters should not be longer than one page.
- Use your own words and if you have a personalised story about how the issue is affects you, include it in the letter.
- Personalise your relationship- have you voted for this person or supported them in the past?
- Reiterate your view expressed in the introduction.
- Pick one strong point to back up your letter.
- Handwrite or sign the letter, don’t use a form letter (copy and pasted text).
- Avoid criticising or accusing the MP.
- Thank them for taking the time to read the letter and ask them to respond by either arranging to meet with you, writing a response back or taking action.
Most importantly get others to write too. If the same member/politician gets 100 individualised letters on the same issue, they are soon going to get a sense of ow important it is.
Phone calls work best when talking about a particular bill being passed in to law. However it is possible that it could be adapted for speaking about election asks.
- Prepare what you are going to say.
- Be prepared to talk briefly about your concerns.
- When you call identify yourself as a constituent, you may be put through to a staff member.
- Be clear about the action you want them to take such as supporting our election asks.
It may be worth following up with an email or letter (email is a follow up action only and should not be used as a lobbying format)
This is the most effective way to lobby your MP. You can request a meeting through their local electorate office.
Before you go to the meeting
- Decide on a clear action for your MP.
- Prepare a script or series of bullet points to help you stay on track, including what to say if they oppose your perspective.
- Have some materials (like a short one page document or other supporting material) to leave with the MP.
If you are going as a group
- Nominate one person to speak for the group.
- Make sure you all have a good understanding of the topic.
- Have one person taking notes.
At the meeting
- Have a conversation – this is not your opportunity to policy bash the politician. You want to build a good relationship with them and have a useful exchange.
- Ask open-ended questions.
- Listen to their responses, be fair even if they oppose. Gently try to persuade them with your rehearsed script of answers.
- Relax, keep it low key, think about it the same as any other conversation that you would have at the PSA. Your MP has to deal with a lot of people and they will appreciate having a candid conversation that is well informed by someone passionate and informed about the issues.
- Lastly and most importantly get a commitment from them on the issue. Don’t settle for a vague promise. Keep pressure on them to make sure this happens before you leave.
After the meeting- write or email to thank them for taking the time to meet with you. Outline what you discussed and use that time to remind them of the commitment they made.
If you lobby your MP, you can write to us and let us know what you talked about and how it went! If you need any more support about lobbying, let us know and we’ll do what we can to support you.
Report back how you get on. Email us at Stantogether@psa.org.nz let us know what your politician had to say and we will publish the outcome on our Facebook page for the wider community to see.