Friday, 23 May 2014

How to engage with the Political Process

BFTF was surprised by how much he learnt at a recent workshop about the British Political System.

Held at a local mosque the 3-hr event covered a lot of ground and provided a number of useful pointers on how to achieve results when engaging with the political process.

As BFTF is always keen to share the benefits of events as widely as possible, a summary of the key points is shown below....

How is Legislation Made?
A good initial resource can be found at the UK Parliament Website here and describes how legislation moves from being an item on the governments agenda, through Green/White consultation papers to being a formal Bill submitted to the House of Commons. In particular, BFTF notes that :

"The UK's European Union commitments can lead to new legislation. Campaigning by special interest groups, private citizens or other politicians - often through the media - may raise the profile of particular causes or problems. More widely, the media's reporting on issues, government and Parliament all inform and influence Britain's political agenda."

"No matter where a policy idea originates, it normally won't get far without the backing of a government minister. This is because ministers are in a position to champion an idea to government colleagues."

"Even a minister's backing, however, isn't enough to guarantee an idea will find its way to Parliament and become a law. Ministers normally - where time allows - shape and inform their proposals by consulting with experts, interest groups and people likely to be affected by the plans..."

For a short period in 1834,
 the House of Commons banned MP's from wearing trousers.

Challenging Legislation
In order of increasing "height" challenges could go to the County Courts, High Court of Justice, Court of Appeal, Supreme Court and then, ultimately, the European Court of Human Rights.

The British Electoral System
Incredibly, there has not been an election since 1935 in which a single party has managed to get a majority of the vote! Even in the famous 1983 Conservative "landslide" where the Tories won 61% of the Parliamentary seats, and they did it with just 42% of the popular vote.

Why voting matters
In May 2002, the BNP won 3 seats in Burnley, one of which was only by FOUR VOTES !
2014 Local Elections : Kingstanding (Birmingham) Conservatives beat Labout by 32 votes (out of a total of 4421 votes)
2014 Local Elections : Shard End (Birmingham): Labour beat UKIP by just 37 votes (out of a total of 4606 votes)

Think Tanks
Conservative : Adam Smith Institute, Centre for Policy Studies, Policy Exchange
Labour : Fabian Society, IPPR, Compass
Lib Dem : Centre Forum

Not hard to figure out which party the Centre for Policy Studies supports

The left leaning IPPR also wears its Euro heart on its sleeve

What do MPs do?
Parliament : Engage with Ministers and Government, debate and vote on laws, sit on select committees.
Constituency : Weekly surgery, attend functions, address constituent concerns
Party : Election canvassing, party fundraising.

How do I know what my MP is doing?
Check them out on :

Contacting your MP
Write a letter (typically viewed as representing the views of 80 constituents who could not be bothered to write).
Meet them in surgery (better if you can do this as a group).
Ask them to forward a concern to a Minister (you should get a response eventually)
Ask them to sign an "Early Day Motion".
Ask them to ask a question in Commons (e.g. at PMQs) [BFTF had never considered this one!].
Ask for publicity for a cause/issue through the 10 Minute Rule Bill.

Why local party associations are powerful
It takes tens of thousands of voters to vote in an MP - but it takes just a couple of hundred votes in the local party association to choose who the candidate is.....
Incidentally, worth reading this article on the expense and work required to become a PCC.

Image Sources
Wikipedia (and here)

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