Student member of RCN Council Amy Fancourt shares her top tips for meeting and influencing your MP and other elected representatives
Speaking to an elected representative, like an MP, is one of the best ways to get your voice heard by those in government across the four countries of the UK.
Elected representatives have a responsibility to listen to their constituents’ views and you can contact them directly about issues you feel are important.
It also works both ways. Because the person has been elected to represent you, the best way for them to make sure they’re re-elected is to represent you effectively.
Elected representatives have a responsibility to listen to their constituents’ views
If you’re able to build up a rapport and good relationship with your elected representative, they may also come to you for advice on health and care issues.
With all the recent media attention on MPs, now is a really good moment to talk to yours. They could be that one voice that speaks out and starts a chain reaction with other MPs following suit.
Living in England, I often contact my local MP but the following tips can also help members trying to build relationships with any elected representative across the UK.
With all the recent media attention on MPs, now is a really good moment to talk to yours
You can contact your MP by email or letter and request a meeting. Email is usually quicker but, either way, make sure you include your own address and postcode because MPs are only required to respond to people who live within their constituency.
Make sure you explain how the issue you want to talk about affects you personally and how it impacts on the local community too. It’s useful to state clearly how you’d like them to help. There may be some specific campaign actions you can ask them to take. Your local RCN office can help you with this and signpost you to templates you can use for your email or letter.
If you don’t receive a reply, don’t be afraid to follow it up with a phone call to the constituency office. You might also be able to contact your MP on social media but make sure you include a link to more information or a request to meet with them.
Try to remember that elected representatives are human and some of the experiences they’ve had might be similar to your own. Even if that isn’t the case, they should be able to empathise with you. They may even have health care workers in their family or friendship groups.
Previously, a lot of my own political involvement has been in grassroots activism and I’ve only recently begun to understand the value in direct political influencing. I used to think “Why would an MP care about me and what I have to say?” But that’s not the case at all. Their job is to represent you.
If you’re meeting your MP, try to be as prepared as possible. Consider what you want to share and do some research on them too. What are they passionate about? What will make them sit up and listen? Sometimes jotting down some agenda points beforehand can help you to stay focused.
Remember, you’re the expert on your own experiences. The idea that you need to be completely confident and only make direct points isn’t true. The most powerful thing is your story and your personal experiences so be yourself and use your own words.
If you do arrange a meeting with your MP, let your local RCN office know. They can help you prepare and support you throughout the process.
Don’t forget to follow up your meeting with a thank you email or letter. This is also a great opportunity to remind them about what action they agreed to take.
Think about how you can promote your meeting. If you’re on social media, you can tweet about it on the day and ask your MP to do the same. You can also ask them if they’re planning to promote it in any other ways, such as including it in their newsletter to constituents.
If you don’t feel able to meet with your MP, that’s OK. There are other ways to get involved in campaigning.
I firmly believe that you can’t separate nursing and politics. Nursing is a political issue because as nursing staff our livelihood and the care we provide to our patients is vastly affected by the decisions made by government.
So, be politically aware; read the health news and speak to your peers. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice from others; people are usually willing to share their knowledge.
A lot of RCN campaigns use online tools to allow you to send a pre-populated message about a certain issue to your MP. Don’t underestimate the power of this – the more emails they receive about a particular issue, the more they’re likely to take notice.
Whether you’re trying to set up a meeting with your MP, speaking to another type of elected representative or taking part in a wider campaign action, the key to influencing is to be persistent.
The RCN isn’t affiliated to any political party and members come from a wide range of backgrounds. We need to work alongside organisations and individuals who champion our causes to achieve the best deal for members and patients. We also need to talk constructively with people who don’t agree with us.
An elected representative might not agree with you or with the RCN about some issues, but it’s important to be respectful. Consider how you can help change their mind.
Want to find out more?
Amy is chairing a fringe event on political influencing at RCN Congress. The event will explore how members across the UK are influencing their elected representatives as part of the campaign for staffing for safe and effective care.
Amy says: “The spectrum of experience of those attending will be really valuable. Some attendees will already be very active and may even come from political backgrounds themselves, and others may be completely new to activism.
“Either way, it’s a great opportunity to learn more, pick up tips and join together with others who want to get involved in the issues that matter to nursing.”
The event Getting Your Voice Heard: Nursing and Political Influencing in the Staffing for Safe and Effective Care Campaign will take place on Wednesday 22 May from 1.15pm to 2pm and is open to all. Find out more about the event.