This article was first published by Eco Rother Action.
There are many different ways to get your voice heard: direct action, letter writing, craftivism, legal cases. Hope for the Future are an organisation that focusses on relationship building with local politicians as a way of getting results. It’s certainly not the only way, and might not suit all, but it has had successes with politicians of every hue, and can be a route into engaging with those who appear a lost cause.
Underlying all of Hope for the Future’s support is the concept of trying to find common ground with a politician, and building constructively on this.
This requires research! The first step is to be aware of the remit and limits of the different sorts of local politicians: a councillor can help with waste and active travel for example, whereas your MP can influence policy on renewables and subsidies. Which type of politician can best help you?
Then get to know about your chosen representative, whether councillor or MP: what might chime with them? Are they interested in air quality, even if they switch off when climate change is mentioned? You can find out a lot about them by looking at their voting pattern, their speeches or social media, any leaflets they put out, or maybe local knowledge.
Find areas where you and they might have common ground on which you can build a relationship. What are they interested in that you can use as a way into your issue? If they fish, can you use this to influence them to take a stand on water quality? If they are keen on sport, can you get them interested in active travel?
Build your request carefully: it’s easy for a politician (or indeed anyone!) to fall into defensive behaviour, especially when faced with accusations and demands. So build your initial conversation opener carefully:
Make an observation: the air quality in this borough is among the worst 5% of the country. (You’ll need research again for this).
Identify your feelings about this: I’m concerned about the effect on my health and that of my family.
Establish your values: It’s important that where we live doesn’t harm our health.
Then use your research to frame clear requests: these should be specific, precise, within their remit, relevant and have a timeframe, so that you can follow up later. If your research covers an area that you think they might not know much about, offer them an information pack.
Make your request: would you be willing to take action to reduce local emissions? You could specify what action and by when. And make sure they make a commitment in return! It might not immediately be the commitment you ask for, but may take you part of the way there, and you can build on it.
All this starts a conversation, whether by letter or in person. Hope for the Future have a number of tips for letter writing, including making it personal, even hand written, and writing to a constituency office rather than Westminster in the case of MPs. They also have a number of template letters on their website, adaptable to make them more personal. They also suggest a number of motivators for politicians, which of course we can play on to make them more receptive: a legacy of public service, or good publicity, for example, but perhaps the most important as far as climate-related conversations are concerned, is to provide a constituency mandate for the changes required.
Let’s let our politicians know what we want, and put it in terms such that they will want it too!
With thanks to Hope for the Future, a UK-based charity which works to equip communities, groups and individuals across the country to communicate the urgency of the climate and nature crises with politicians. Templates, training and tailored advice are available through their website.