Some Campaigning Thoughts

This page gives a few suggestions on the basis of 25 years personal involvement in campaigning organisations, to varying degrees and different levels of success. To be added to and edited from time to time.

Also see: Campaign Central features personal thoughts from other campaigners (along with resources etc.).

A few mottos

‘Be prepared’, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket’, ‘No headless chickens’. Rather trite slogans, but they summarise some key thoughts below. And refer back to common sense and everyday life for a reality check.

You need to be able to exploit opportunities when they arise – be sufficiently up on your issue and aware of what is going on to use some event or change in political circles (e.g. new council committee chair) to act in a coherent fashion. This is where a small group can score over larger ones who can’t react as fast – they have to check back to HQ or consider the organisation’s wider interests.

Commercial marketing and management skills and training (although I hate to admit it) have a lot of relevance:
– A portfolio approach with a variety of tactics (but probably only concentrating on one at a time);
– Doing a SWOT analysis (see Planning page);
– Scanning the environment for STEP factors (see ditto);
– Making best use of scarce resources, ‘overtrading’ issues (trying to do too much with limited resources, whether human, financial or physical)
– Knowing when to call it a day or compromise.

BUT I am a little concerned about the tensions I have seen build up in organisations trying to go ‘professional’, when they have grown and succeeded through the ‘amateur’ activist working bloody hard. The two sides don’t always see eye to eye, and there is a danger of losing really valuable individuals.

AND on the other hand: beware the over-committed, over-driven activist, who can’t let go, can’t see the wider picture, can’t step back and realise they don’t even know what direction they are trying to go any more. Common sense and real life is still a powerful weapon to wield against the experts with narrow horizons. Don’t throw it away by appearing to be somewhat out of it, too.



Use your membership! Keep them active and committed – small successes are important, particularly if members feel they have helped to achieve them. This is energizing and can give a real drive to the next, bigger goal. Letter writing: “MPs reckon that for every letter they receive on a subject, ten meant to write but didn’t get round to it”. This has been quoted so often that I am no longer convinced! Don’t underestimate your power. My first ‘success’ was in a local Friends of the Earth group in the mid-70s – 3 of us (two still at school) put together a broadsheet newsletter (with help from HQ), which against my better judgement headlined a threat to dump rubbish on the town hall steps if the council went ahead with changing from collecting refuse from bins to using plastic sacks. Wide circulation to press and councillors and instant climb-down by said council!

Classic lobbying is about building up useful contacts and trust, and then either use that in conjunction with a good public case or influence decisions in the background (the ‘old school boy network’ approach). This can be on the level of knowing the person who knows how to make sure that a junior minister gets to appreciate an issue is important or at a local level getting a senior journalist on the local paper run a prominent story. But contacts are no longer the only approach, and indeed may not be as reliable as in the past (they are more likely to move on or have competing interests).

Don’t forget that a campaigning success is often only the beginning – what happens next to consolidate or develop your ideal? It is tempting not to think about this beforehand, as it would only make losing even worse. But do it.

Lobbying and Campaigning Contacts

Issues

Freedom of Information

FoI legislation gives a legal right to request access to all types of “recorded” information held by public bodies. Some reference sources:

  • The Information Commissioner’s Office is the official overseer of the regulations under Freedom of Information (England and Wales). This body also has responsibility for Environmental Information Regulations.
  • Scotland has a separate (but similar) FOI regime – see Scottish Information Commissioner. Also see Scottish Government’s FOI pages.
  • The UK government’s Freedom of Information policy moved from the Ministry of Justice to the Cabinet Office in July 2015.
  • Campaign for Freedom of Information is keeping an eye on issues and publishing advice. Published January 05 is A Short Guide to the Freedom of Information Act and Other New Access Rights in pdf format, 526kb – a recommended starting point.
  • freedomofinformation.co.uk is providing consultancy and research services and has some useful resources on their site.

Note: organisations providing public services will also have obligations under FoI.

Lobbying and PR issues

Alliance for Lobbying Transparency is comprised of civil society groups concerned about the growing influence of professional lobbying on Government decision-making and life in the UK.

Spinwatch monitors the role of public relations and spin in contemporary society.

Also see Government/democracy/media in our Areas of Concern section.

General

Gov.uk is the starting point for government info (was DirectGov). Try the citizenship section re petitions, the announcements section for news and speeches – possibly public consultations (there doesn’t seem to be a separate section).

We can’t currently (Sep. 2014) find any details on signing up for the Gov.uk email alerts service (which replaced info4local etc.), which used to provide news from the government departments and agencies.

Dod’s have a range of guides to parliamentary process and contacts, including what is now Vacher’s Quarterly. They’ve also got online directories for UK, Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, European Union etc.

Writetothem is an independent facility to help make contact with Councillors, MP, MEPs, MSPs, or Welsh and London Assembly Members.

Also see Campaign Resources page under Useful Publications, Campaign Help, etc.

National Government issues

Parliamentary

Members of Parliament: Politics.co.uk has a directory of MPs. Plus see Campaigning Resources page.

Hansard Society promotes effective parliamentary democracy; runs a Lobbying training series with Directory of Social Change on occasional basis. St. Philips Building, Sheffield St, WC2 2EX, phone 020 7955 7459, email: hansard@hansard.lse.ac.uk

Government/Whitehall

All government departments are now on GOV.UK – the following links should forward to the correct sections if they haven’t been updated by us yet.

Published legislation is available from legislation.gov.uk. Also see The Gazette for official notices.

The Stationery Office Online Bookshop All the official publications in one place.

National Statistics Includes details of National Statistics Information and Library Service public libraries in Pimlico (London) and Newport (South Wales) under Services.

Scottish, Welsh, NI



Regional

Government Offices in the Regions

These were due to close 2012.

Regional Assemblies/Chambers

These were the democratic/political relation to the regional development agencies, but may no longer have much of a role (summer 2010) and are likely to radically change/disappear (apart from GLA).

Regional Development Agencies

all closed by March 2012. There may be some remnant of these bodies still operational but they don’t have any formal governmental role.

Local Government

Information on what English councils do, how to contact councillors etc. is available via Gov.Uk.

Local Government Association site is pretty good. If you are looking for a list of local authority web sites, go to Search, then Links.

London Councils develops policy, lobbies government and others, and runs a range of services “designed to make life better for Londoners”.

New Local Government Network A membership organisation which supports reform and modernisation in local government. The site contains information about the Network as well as news, key issues, events and debates.

European and International

See more general/sector European contacts on a separate page.

A directory of MEPs and the European parliament calendar can be obtained from the library of the parliament’s London office.

EmbassyWorld is a searchable global database.

Political Parties

The Electoral Commission has a database of registered political parties (the focus is on party finance) and various info about them – more comprehensive than our list.

Conservative Party
Labour Party
Liberal Democrats
Green Party of England and Wales

Plaid Cymru
Welsh Green Party
Wales Labour Party

SNP
Scottish Liberal Democrats

Scottish Green Party

Ulster Unionist Party
SDLP
The Alliance Party
Sinn Fein

Campaigning Resources

Campaigning can range from being pretty straightforward to very sophisticated – it depends on your resources and aims. Sometimes the quick and dirty approach can be more effective, if you happen to strike at a good time on an issue which hits the spot for your target decision makers/influencers.

There are remarkably few generally useful campaigning guides and courses around. Some organisations listed under Areas of Concern have their own campaign manuals focusing on their interests, so if you are involved in a like-minded body, why not ask? We have put together a page with some thoughts on campaigning from our own experience.

For social action, community campaigns and the like, see Community Group Resources page.

Also see: Lobbying and Campaigning Contacts, Regulatory Bodies. Getting your message across, Marketing, Research resources and Running an event might also be useful.

Lobby/research organisations

LMSC – the Legislation Monitoring Service for Charities, voluntary organisations and their advisers. ‘Subscribers (are) kept abreast of developments in Westminster, Whitehall and Brussels’. Policy as well as law, quarterly reports. 12 Little College Street, London, SW1P 3SH, phone 020 7222 1265, email: lmsc@central-lobby.co.uk

Organisations with specific concerns (who may well be lobbying and/or researching on those issues) are listed on VolResource under
Areas of Concern or
Issue specific charity umbrella/membership bodies or
Research resources e.g. Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Policy Research Institute.

Useful Publications

Vacher’s Parliamentary Companion. Basic information on all MPs and peers, government ministers etc. Regularly updated. A6 size (pocket sixe) £30-00 subscription, £10-50 single copies, A5 £35 sub, £11-50 single. Contact Vacher Dod Publishing, PO Box 3700, Westminster, London, SW1E 5NP, phone 020 7828 7256.

UKOP Online provides ‘The complete catalogue of all official publications including both Stationery Office and departmental or “non-Stationery Office” publications from 1980 to the present’.

Campaigning help

  • The campaign strategy website from Chris Rose (previously with Greenpeace) has a page of resources as well as 12 basic guidelines for campaigning, and advanced tips, and an occasional newsletter.
  • Seeds for Change Resources page.
  • Sheila McKechnie Foundation provides training and support for those campaigning for positive social change. Library and Resources web section.
  • WriteToThem is a facility aimed at individuals to communicate easily with their MP, but also local councillors, European parliament members. Works on postcode, and also connects to appropriate Register of Interests, political party and parliamentary speeches. From the same stable (mySociety), TheyWorkForYou keeps tabs on activity in parliament – official statements, debates, committees etc.
  • An old article from SCVO covered the position of charities in Scotland with respect to political campaigning in the absence of a clear legal position north of the border and the usefulness of Charity Commission guidance. As they say, there are no explicit restrictions on campaigning by charities under Scottish charity legislation, although political parties or organisations set up to advance a political party can’t be charities.
  • We also like The Tyee, from Canada, which has a CitizenToolkit with interesting pieces.


Campaigning websites

  • Campaign Creator, a pilot project from Bristol Council, has wrapped up – there’s an evaluation report available on the site. Scarman Trust was looking at a relaunch but probably abandoned. The site also has guidance for those new to campaigning, produced with the help of Friends of the Earth.
  • Central Lobby is a part of PoliticsHome, and provides a directory of member experts – charities can sign up to be part of this.
  • Social networking sites like Facebook can be used to set up groups bringing together individuals interested in particular issues.

Campaigning electronically

  •  The eCampaigning Forum community is a loose network of practitioners using digital media for campaigning and advocacy. There is an annual eCampaigning Forum event – see more details from FairSay, a company supporting campaigners.
  • NetAction is an American organisation with a training guide about how to use email and web based tools in campaigning – The Virtual Activist.
  • Software  Engaging Networks (previously Advocacy Online) is a UK provider of e-campaigning software. CiviCRM is an add-on to Drupal or Joomla open source CMS (web based) systems designed particularly to meet the needs of advocacy groups. See Political Wizard under Lobby Organisations above, too. Also check our Software page