This is a guest post by Puffles the Whitehall Dragon Fairy. Puffles is a Whitehall insider who tweets under the name Puffles2010.
Puffles the Dragon Fairy notes that everyone found out the hard way what happens if we do not keep tabs on our elected representatives: they end up doing stupid things, like claiming expenses for duck houses or moat cleaning, rather than holding central and local government to account.
As you may be aware, Puffles buzzes around Whitehall and keeps tabs on a small but friendly group of public servants. They have helped Puffles come up with this guide for people who want to lobby their MPs and Councillors.
You have the constitutional right to lobby your local MP on issues that affect you. Your MP has a constitutional responsibility to handle constituency issue of all his or her constituents – irrespective of how they voted.
If you want to write to your MP, use the simple tool at http://www.writetothem.com/
Alternatively, have a look at http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/
The first thing to remember when writing to an MP is, irrespective of the issue, to keep your correspondence polite. You wouldn’t respond to rude letters and emails, so why should they? Hard-pressed constituency offices will more often than not ignore long and “shouty” correspondence.
When writing to an MP, you should do so from the premise of:
a) Asking a question on a constituency or personal issue
b) Asking your MP to undertake a specific action in response to a constituency or personal issue.
To increase the chances of your letter getting a response, consider setting it out as follows:
1) Salutation (e.g. Dear Mr/Mrs/Ms)
2) Introduce yourself
a. I am …
b. I live at [insert name of address – this confirms to your MP that you are a constituent]
3) State why you are contacting him or her. [I am concerned about X,Y,Z]
4) State how this issue is affecting you and/or your family
5) Ask the question/s or state the action you wish to be carried out. (E.g. “Please can you advise me on what I should to regarding…” or “Please could you write to the minister responsible asking him/her for a response on this issue)
6) Closure (e.g. Yours sincerely)
Similar formats apply to your local councillors when writing on an issue that involves the delivery of public services by your local council.
In a nutshell, the easier you make it for the administrative staff of your elected representatives, and for the latter themselves, the more likely you will get a response.
Here is a sample letter prepared by Puffles!
Name of MP (Find out via www.writetothem.com)
House of Commons
Cuts to Public Services
I am writing to you to express my strong opposition to the Coalition’s programme of cuts to public services in [Insert name of town/city/county]. I am particularly concerned about the impact that the cuts will have not only on myself, but also on my family and my community.
I am sure that you will be aware of concerns from a number of voluntary and charitable organisations have raised serious concerns about the impact of these cuts – such as the chief executive of Shelter, who said:
“The combined worry of cuts to housing benefit and the slashing of the affordable house building subsidy, coupled with the absence of a long-term strategy, will be devastating for the housing aspirations of thousands of young people consigned to increasing costs and bringing up their families in an insecure private rented sector.”
I would like to raise the issue about the unemployment and health impacts of the cuts. The BBC interviewed Dr Alex Scott-Samuel, clinical senior lecturer in public health at the University of Liverpool, who raised the health risks associated with unemployment.
“When there is an increase in unemployment, there is an increase in ill health and death rates,” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-11533512)
As [Insert name of local council area] has up to [see Fig 4 in http://www.localfutures.com/Assets/3949/public%20sector%20employment%20barometer.pdf for your area] of its workforce working in the public sector or in the delivery of public services, I would like you to write to the ministers responsible asking them what steps they are going to take to significantly reduce the impact of the cuts on people’s health.
I also note that HMRC states that it estimates that the tax gap for 2008-09 was £42billion. Given the scale of the cuts, I would like you to write to HM Treasury on my behalf and ask them the following questions:
1. What consideration was given during the negotiations for the Comprehensive Spending Review to reducing significantly this gap as an alternative to the cuts
2. What consideration was given to representations from trade unions regarding increasing resources to HMRC to deal with tax avoidance
3. Why such little consideration and publicity has been given to the issue of tax avoidance and tax evasion
4. What steps – in the light of the protests by the UK Uncut movement – it will be taking to clamp down on tax avoidance and tax evasion
I would be grateful for an acknowledgement to this letter