Another week, another campaign by members of the public to get me to vote one way or another on a certain issue. Of course we peers welcome the views of the public, and as a crossbencher I am not whipped, I am not bound to vote in any particular way except as my conscience dictates. So it is very interesting and important when people, or organisations write to me to explain an issue in a Bill that needs my attention. I read all the letters and papers that come my way. Peers have no secretaries and the allowance we used to get for secretarial help was removed a few years ago, so on the whole I cannot cope with replies, but I do read them.
Emails are another matter altogether. Some campaign groups think it is a good idea to flood the inboxes of peers with long, identically worded emails, addressed in many cases to every single member of the House, so that one has to scroll down endlessly to get to the subject matter of the email. This cuts no ice with me. On the contrary, it is extremely irritating and I have to remind myself not to react by voting automatically against whatever it is the emailers want because I am so unimpressed with their tactics. Dozens of emails arrived this week, all headed Write to the House of Lords now. In other words, the writers had not even bothered to edit the text in order to make sense to the recipient. The email was very long; so complex that I could not make out what was at issue, and of course they were all identical. The writers had not taken the trouble, or had insufficient ability, to voice in their own words what it was they were anxious about. Although getting dozens, or even hundreds of emails, makes a point, one has to remember that there are another 50 million or so citizens out there who have not written to peers, so maybe what has arrived is very much a minority point of view.
If lobbying is to be done, and of course it is much more effective when addressed to crossbenchers than to MPs because of our freedom to vote as we wish, then here are my tips. Don’t all write in the same words, make it your own personal expression of opinion. Write a proper letter, not an email. Make all your points in brief clear language on not more than two sides of A4. Better still, club together in an organisation and write one briefing from everyone. Don’t expect an answer. Don’t be rude. We peers are not especially sensitive creatures, but to tell us that we must have corrupt intentions or to ask us how we can sleep at night, as happened during the lobbying surrounding last year’s Health Bill, will not strengthen the argument.
There has been published a very interesting and practical study of lobbying called Peering In, http://www.cloresocialleadership.org.uk/userfiles/Peering_In_FINAL_SR.pdf carried out in 2012 by Esther Foreman of the Social Change Agency. Well worth reading if you are thinking of trying to influence legislators.