Examples of lobbying - one of the most effective ways to campaign
From having a cup of tea with your parish councillor to meeting with national government at Westminster, bending an ear behind closed doors can bring effective results and transform the way in which your campaign is seen by the powers that be.
Most of the policies and laws in place at local, national and international levels are a result of pressure by corporate lobbyists and other powerful interests – so if they do it every day, we need to do it too, whenever the opportunity arises.
It is not just politicians either; often the most important people to lobby are the public, whose opinion will determine whether you have momentum behind your ideas. Corporations, mindful of their public profile and the value of adverse publicity, can climb down from unethical practices.
Sometimes it means cosying up to people you might not necessarily see eye-to-eye with on most issues, but remember that if it achieves your aims, it will have been worth it.
The public’s perception of politicians has been tainted, but if you can find the right person, and lobby them in the right way, there is a good chance you can achieve excellent results.
Dos and don’ts
DO have clear objectives. What would a victory look like for you? Is there some smaller goal you can aim for as a compromise?
DO be prepared. You need to back up your arguments with sound reasoning, costing and evidence. Do the most extensive research you can so that you are always on top of the subject.
DO personalise the issues. What does it mean for you, your family and the people that you know? What does it mean for children and the next generation? Don’t be afraid to create an emotional appeal. Include your members directly affected by the changes in your lobbying efforts. For instance if an office is set to close, a member who’s own job is at risk may be likely to say things that win over a local MP more than a union officer DO listen. The people you lobby may not be able to say outright how they can help you, but may attempt to steer you in the direction of a meaningful compromise.
DON’T be intimidated by the people you’re lobbying. It is your right to lobby and it is their responsibility to listen.
DON’T be charmed, either. It is very easy for someone to tell you what you want to hear and for you to walk away from a meeting feeling on top of the world. But if the promises aren’t followed through then it will count for nothing.
DON’T get angry. It is important to convey the emotional reasons why you want your lobbying to succeed, but remember that you are meeting with someone in a formal situation. Losing your temper will lessen your chances of success.
DON’T think you can change everything in one meeting. Sometimes it may take two or three meetings to find a successful path. Give the people you’re meeting with time to look into their options and they may be able to find a way to agree with you.
UK Uncut has been effective at lobbying the public with the power of facts. At a time when ordinary people have seen VAT rise and benefits cut in real terms, UK Uncut has drawn attention to those for whom this has not been a time of austerity – massive tax-avoiding corporations. PCS has, as the union for tax workers, played a leading role in supporting and publicising this campaign.
Social media has been part of the lobbying strategy, and it has paid dividends: increased awareness of tax avoidance has led to MPs hauling Amazon and other giants into parliament to explain themselves. While there has not been legislative change as yet, attitudes are shifting, and Starbucks promised to pay up millions of pounds in tax after they were publically humiliated.
It might seem a tough sell to the public to keep a tax office open – but that is exactly what was achieved when successful lobbying and campaigning by the PCS saw the government go back on its plans to close down the HMRC presence in Wick.
Under the slogan “Wick Wants Work”, union reps and other campaigners explained how the closure would affect the local community, from the immediate loss of the jobs to the impact on other businesses around the tax office. It was a two-step campaign which was aimed at persuading not only the public but also elected representatives at Scottish and UK level.
Corporations and companies can be persuaded to ditch suspect decisions and practices with some targeted lobbying. When Waitrose, the supermarket arm of the John Lewis Partnership, aimed to expand its outlets at Shell petrol stations, Greenpeace moved in.
Waitrose has an upmarket, ethical image for its business, and Greenpeace carefully used this to show how a partnership with Shell – a company with plans to drill for oil in the Arctic – was incompatible. Colourful stunts such as bringing a life-sized model of a polar bear to a London store helped with the public perception – and Waitrose eventually backed down.
An 18-month lobbying campaign by Unison saw Hillingdon Council return it’s previously outsourced ‘arms length’ management organisation in-house.
This long-term campaign worked in two ways: firstly, councillors were spoken to in private and more formally in an attempt to convince the council to return the housing management in house; secondly, the union worked hard to find the facts and figures required to back up its arguments and prove the cost-effectiveness of the change.
At a time when privatisation is often seen as a way of local government saving cash, the bottom-line arguments were crucial in swaying opinion and achieving the union’s aims.
NFU and food labelling
The EU is a big target for lobbyists of all persuasions, but the National Farmers Union proved in 2010 that it is not just shadowy corporate lobbyists who can succeed in Strasbourg and Brussels.
The farmers’ union had campaigned over a long period of time for mandatory country-of-origin labelling on fresh food products in the European Union to better inform shoppers of the provenance of their purchases.
One downside of EU changes is the slowness of change: it was only November of last year that the UK government introduced a bill for country of origin fresh meat labelling.
One way of ensuring your lobbying voice is heard is to bring together a wide range of campaigners. The Care and Support Alliance (CSA) brings together dozens of groups including Age UK, the WRVS, the Terence Higgins Trust, in a common purpose: to lobby about the future of social care in the UK.
The CSA is a powerful critical voice, combining the evidence of its research with the knowledge of its member groups to respond to government consultation – and take campaigns to the public, as well. With adult social care topping the political agenda, the need has never been greater.
The World Development Movement (WDM) uses social media as a lobbying tool to raise awareness of social injustice and the role the government plays in allowing it to happen.
Viral videos have included a spoof documentary of George Osborne and fake ‘speculators’ outside a Barclays branch telling the bank’s customers how the financial behemoth makes money out of food speculation.
The aim of raising public awareness through the social media viral advertising is to shame government and companies alike into ‘doing the right thing’.