Without a doubt, if we want our campaign to succeed we are going to have to persuade the government to end the enormous amount of political and financial support it gives to the arms trade. The most effective way to influence government is to lobby our MPs to speak out on our behalf.
Pressure from within the constituency is frequently a key factor in influencing an MP’s views. Some people will have MPs with front-bench responsibilities for arms exports, foreign affairs or trade, or who sit on one of the relevant Select Committees. If you are one of these people, lobbying your MP could have a very important impact.
Lobbying other MPs is equally important. An MP who is sympathetic to ending arms export subsidies may be encouraged to take action in the House and in her or his party. An MP who is strongly supportive of the arms industry may reconsider the issue if a well-reasoned case is calmly presented by constituents. This is especially true if the MP encounters colleagues who have also been lobbied.
Finding out more about your MP
It is worth acquiring a bit of background information about your MP before contacting them. To find out who your MP or other representative is, visit the following websites and do a quick search:
On some issues it is also worth contacting your MEP.
The following websites have useful background information on your representative:
You can email your MP quickly and easily via the last website, although it is worth noting that some MPs seem to respond less frequently to emails than to letters that arrive in an envelope! All MPs can be written to at House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA. The usual, but not universal, formula for MPs’ email addresses is bloggsj(at)parliament·uk.
Individual letters can be very powerful. It is estimated that every letter received by a politician represents about 80 people who care but haven’t got around to writing. That is why politicians take notice of letters – each one represents at least 80 votes!
The best way to have influence through letter writingis to write to your own MP asking her or him to raise the issue with the relevant Minister. That way your MP becomes aware of the issues as well as the Minister. By convention, a letter forwarded by an MP to a Minister must receive a Ministerial reply.
It is easier, and tends to be more effective, to write about something specific rather than tackle the arms trade as a whole. CAAT News and our website are worth checking regularly for the latest lobbying and letter-writing ideas.
Tips for writing to your MP
- Be polite and concise – try to keep to one side of the paper.
- Write in your own words. Don’t just copy the text from somewhere else – make it personal.
- Tackle just one subject in a letter.
- Ask for a reply and send a copy to the CAAT office.
Meeting your MP
A step further than writing to your MP is to go yourself or with a small group to visit him or her to talk about the arms trade. The fact that you have made the effort to meet in person speaks volumes. It also means that you have a personal contact with you MP on which to build. These tips should help you feel confident and prepared to get the most out of the meeting.
Tips for visiting your MP
- Make a proper appointment, probably at your MP’s surgery.
- A group of about 2-4 people is probably a good size – you will be able to have a good discussion without being too intimidating.
- Feel confident about your subject – contact CAAT before you go for the latest campaign information and information on whether your MP has shown an interest in arms trade issues before.
- Decide on 3 key points you want to communicate and focus on these.
- Have 1 or 2 clear requests for action you would like your MP to take.
Follow up the meeting with a letter to confirm what was discussed and remind your MP of what action they have agreed to take. Let the CAAT office know how the meeting went!
Shut DESO Action Day and lobby of MPs
After CAAT’s last Shut DESO Action day, when over 250 people came from all over the UK, and from many different groups, to encircle DESO’s headquarters in central London, creating a human chain right around the building and designating it a global danger zone, a street poll was conducted, with over 700 members of the public polled. The results of the poll illustrated that the majority of the public did not think that public money should be spent on helping arms companies push their wares.
This action was followed in the afternoon by a local lobby of MPs, with nearly 50 people going to Westminster to lobby their MPs about DESO. The feedback we received afterwards showed how important this lobby was – unlike a lot of other issues, many MPs were ignorant of what DESO did.
Below are some examples of the false or inaccurate assumptions held by MPs who, prior to being lobbied by CAAT supporters, had no idea that DESO existed solely to maximise arms exports on behalf of companies:
- One MP said an MoD minister had told him, DESO only supports existing contracts and does not do sales. He said he was therefore expecting DESOs headcount to diminish over time.
- Another said he did not agree that DESO should be shut down. He argued that DESO helped the government to monitor and regulate where UK arms are sold.
- A third said he thought DESOs job was to issue export licenses. He seemed unaware of its marketing role, and didnt know how many staff it employed or its annual budget.
These MPs were shocked to discover the truth, becoming sympathetic to the campaign as a result. The lobby was one of many successful actions taken by CAAT supporters over the years, which succeeded in getting DESO shut down at the end of 2007.
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