Changing minds & building pressure: stories from the MP lobbying campaign

Our lobbying campaign aims to get people who want seats to match votes - people just like you - talking to their MPs about why First Past the Post (FPTP) must be replaced with a form of Proportional Representation. Dozens of meetings have taken place and the campaign is already making noise!

From l-r: Bob Seely MP for Isle of Wight, Anneliese Dodds MP for Oxford East, Holly Walker-Lynch MP for Halifax, Henry Smith MP for Crawley, Jared O'Mara MP for Sheffield Hallam, and Kerry McCarthy MP for Bristol East - each meeting with Make Votes Matter activists.

People around the country have been getting out and demanding fair votes from their representatives. This enthusiasm is changing minds, putting electoral reform on the agenda, and sometimes uncovering support in the most surprising of places.

Here’s how it works. Supporters like you have been emailing your MPs to ask for a meeting. Once they’ve agreed, we’ve invited fellow supporters from the same constituency so you can go along as a group. Some local groups of activists have taken this even further: organising big public meetings with their MPs to show just how strong demand is for real democracy.

Remember, to win Proportional Representation we need all the pro-reform parties and organisations working together, but we also need public demand for fair votes to be heard loud and clear. Every letter sent to an MP, every meeting with constituents, and every piece of local news coverage helps communicate this demand and raise the profile of electoral reform. And you don't need to change your MP's mind to help: you just have to make sure they hear you!

Keep reading to hear about the experiences of some of the constituents who have met their MPs so far, and if you're convinced the UK needs PR please take the time to go and meet your MP too!

Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire

Stephen's previous view was: “The British electorate overwhelmingly voted to retain FPTP in 2011 and I strongly believe this was the right decision. FPTP is decisive, giving voters the chance to kick out governments they are fed up with.”

And after meeting with Vicky and Lisa, he said: “My views have altered from 10 years ago.”

Vicky said: “He used to think that our voting system was the envy of the world and coalitions led to chaos. His experience of coalition government helped change his views, he preferred having another party to keep check on and stimulate the government."

If a former Conservative Party leadership candidate can change their mind about First Past the Post, any MP can!

 Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire met with Vicky and Lisa in January

Stephen Crabb, Conservative MP for Preseli Pembrokeshire met with Vicky and Lisa in January

Clive Efford, Labour MP for Eltham

Clive used to be a committed supporter of First Past the Post. He now thinks we should carefully examine the case for systems of PR - like the Single Transferable Vote in particular.

This is part of a major shift taking place within the Parliamentary Labour Party. There are now over 80 Labour MPs who are openly in favour of PR for general elections, with fewer than 50 who are know to be staunch supporters of FPTP.

With MPs who oppose FPTP becoming open-minded, and with MPs who were undecided coming our in favour of reform, we're seeing more and more of this crucial party getting behind fair votes.

 Clive Efford, Labour MP for Eltham met with David earlier this year

Clive Efford, Labour MP for Eltham met with David earlier this year

These are the kind of small victories that a successful campaign for fair votes must be built from. But even when MPs don’t change their minds, this is a vital way of putting pressure on them.

In April, residents in Chingford met with Conservative MP Ian Duncan Smith to discuss voting reform and PR. The former leader of the Conservative Party said he was against PR for a number of reasons, including that FPTP is ‘relatively less bureaucratic than other systems’. Despite his reticence, the meeting secured local press in his now vulnerable parliamentary seat. The vast majority of voters support PR - now his voters know where he stands.

Going to meet your MP at one of their surgeries is great, but in places like Chippenham and Totnes, Make Votes Matter local groups have been pulling out all the stops to hold big public meetings with their representatives. Here are their stories.

Laurie Taylor, Make Votes Matter Totnes

I’ve got children and grandchildren, and I want them to be able to cast a vote in a fair voting system. This, coupled with living in an area which has been a safe seat for 43 years, making my vote effectively pointless, is what has inspired me to campaign for PR. It's good to be part of a group now and have the support of Make Votes Matter too.

MVM Totnes started at the beginning of the year, with around 50 people coming to the first advertised meeting held in March. From there, planning got going and we decided to meet local Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston for an exchange of views.

We came away with more hope than we expected. As she said, PR is not in her party manifesto, but, we all got a sense that she was not closed to the possibility. As she said, there are big tectonic plates to shift both for her party and for Labour.

She cited her main concern with changing the current system was that extremist parties can become too influential. Looking to other countries, she gave Austria and The Netherlands as two examples.

On Demand Democracy Day in June, MVM Totnes held a stall in the town centre to collect more signatures for a petition to Sarah. This was great timing because we then had the opportunity to present the petition to her during the government’s National Democracy Week in July.

As a nod to the suffragette movement, women dressed up and presented a 350-strong petition to the MP. I took a picture and sent it to the local newspaper, the Totnes Times, which printed an article along with my photo. I think the decorated Edwardian hats definitely helped us get our picture included!

 
 

We've met for a group debrief since then to reflect on our recent campaign activity, and we’ve got our next meeting in September where we will discuss what to do next - it would be great to get more information into local schools. Next year is the 200th anniversary of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre in Manchester, so we want to do something to mark this important and often overlooked event in the history of democratic reform.


In Chippenham, a meeting was arranged with Conservative MP Michelle Donelan on Friday 20th July. This is how MVM Chippenham tried to convince her to support real democracy...

Tim Trimble, MVM Chippenham

We wanted to arrange an open meeting with her to put forward our concerns about the current electoral system and the benefits of PR. We hope it would be attended by as many constituents as possible and supported by additional signatures on a petition by those unable to attend.

 A Make Votes Matter Chippenham street stall.

A Make Votes Matter Chippenham street stall.

We wrote to Michelle back in February. The plan was to run street stalls to raise the profile of the meeting and sign people up to the petition, so we suggested meeting her between June or July. We didn’t hear back right away, but in the meantime we went ahead with a number of street stalls in towns across the constituency including Chippenham, Melksham, Bradford-on-Avon, and Corsham. We agreed that if Michelle declined our request to meet, street stalls would still go ahead and we would contact the local press with the results of our campaigning anyway!

When we did hear back, her office wanted us to send one or two people to a surgery instead. It took some persistence, but we managed to persuade her that there were going to be 20 to 30 people who really wanted a proper discussion with their MP on this issue. Having loads of signatures on our petition definitely helped.

Eventually we secured a date, with an afternoon time slot as opposed to an evening meeting. We sent out notices to alert the local press. This proved invaluable because the local paper ran an article inviting other people to attend.

We would definitely advise other groups to do the same because it gives the meeting some visibility and means it has to go ahead! The meeting secured local media coverage in both The Wiltshire Times and the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald. We emailed all supporters and petition signatories, did some promotion on social media, and asked Make Votes Matter, the Electoral Reform Society, and Unlock Democracy - as well as local parties - to invite their members in the area. We even held a street stall in Chippenham on the day, which helped pull in some more constituents.

Despite taking place on a Friday afternoon during working hours, we had a full room of around 30 people. We asked everyone that party politics (and Brexit) be left at the door! I chaired it and set the context, mentioning the recent National Democracy Week, and using a quote from Winston Churchill - as supporter of PR - who we thought might be someone Michelle would listen to: ‘The present system has broken down. The results produced are not fair to any party, nor to any section of the community. Often they do not secure majority representation, nor an intelligent representation of minorities. All they secure is fluke representation.’

 
 Tim presenting the petition to Michelle Donelan at MVM Chippenham's public meeting.

Tim presenting the petition to Michelle Donelan at MVM Chippenham's public meeting.

 

Michelle Donelan gave her position, that she has no intention of changing her mind and that in her view, PR destroys the link between an MP and their constituency. This was immediately refuted by several members of the audience and a lot of constituents spoke passionately about why we need fair votes. Several had never been represented by an MP they had voted for!

The mood of the meeting remained cordial throughout and there was a lively debate during the course of the hour. Even if she wasn’t changing her mind, she had at least come to listen - and she went away with no doubt that this is an issue she'll be hearing about again and again, until we win real democracy!


This is all just a snapshot of the lobbying campaign so far this year. Like the suffragists and suffragettes of the 19th and 20th Centuries, we have the power to create change by each taking what action we can. We cannot do this without you, but together we can call for an end to First Past the Post and win real democracy for voters.

Please take action today - thank you for all your support!