As the official Opposition in Parliament, with the ambition of forming a new government at the next general election, the Parliamentary Labour Party is a vital group with which charities should be effectively engaged. In total, the party has 200 elected MPs from across the UK in Westminster. Day-to-day, these MPs can put issues raised by charities onto the Government’s radar through debates, committee hearings, written questions and direct communication with Ministers. Effective engagement from charities can also help to shape a future Labour government’s priorities should the party come to power at the next election.

Pro Bono Economics is dedicated to helping the social sector build a UK with higher wellbeing for all and, through the Law Family Commission on Civil Society, has been speaking with and surveying policymakers on their perceptions of the charity sector. This research is designed to help charities ensure they get the most out of their interactions with policymakers today and into the future. Here are five key things for charities to consider when trying to influence and build relationships with Labour MPs:

1. Focus on building long-term, ongoing relationships with a select number of Labour MPs.

The Commission research found that nine in 10 Labour MPs (90%) think there should be more engagement between policymakers and charities, yet only half of Labour MPs (52%) think charities are effective at lobbying government. One Labour MP told the Commission “an ongoing relationship [with charities] rather than a crisis relationship” is the preference, adding: “Good engagement means looking at areas you can work together on.” Another Labour MP added: “If you [as a charity] got to know a smaller group of MPs on a more personal level you would have more luck than the scattergun approach. You [as an MP] build up your patchwork of knowledge from meeting these smaller charities and they are useful touchpoints as you continue your career.”

2. Labour MPs value charities for the evidence and insights they can provide, especially if it is at constituency level.

The Commission survey, which included 103 MPs, found that 80% of Labour MPs have used evidence or insights provided by a charity they know. In comparison, only 43% said the same about evidence or insights provided by a business they know. The research also found that MPs generally value constituency-level data especially, such as statistics comparing health outcomes with other areas in a way that gives them a chance to talk about it. With this in mind, charities that wish to engage with Labour MPs should look to find opportunities to share rigorous data and insights on key issues, with a focus on localised evidence. One way of sharing this information could be through written reports, which nearly seven in 10 Labour MPs (67%) welcome as a means of communication from charities.

3. Charities can make the most of their contact with Labour MPs by communicating in a tailored, frequent and detailed way.

When asked what charities and community groups could do to provide more useful or accessible information, more than half of Labour MPs (53%) told the Commission that organisations should tailor information more to their area of work. Nearly the same proportion of Labour MPs (49%) wanted to see charity policy focused on their area of work, while 24% of Labour MPs surveyed said they would value more frequent communications from charities and community groups. 

4. Websites are the most important means of communication from charities and community groups for Labour MPs, and they also like meeting in person.

Nearly four in five Labour MPs (79%) consider websites as important when seeking information about charities and community groups, according to the Commission research. This makes a web presence hugely important for those organisations which intend to engage with and influence Labour MPs. Charities should therefore ensure their website has good search engine optimisation (SEO) focused not just on fundraising but on their policy positions, so that MPs and their staff can easily find them on Google and other search engines. If possible, the website itself should have a clear ‘policy’ section or similar, which is accessible and easily navigable so that MPs are signposted to the most relevant issues. The research shows seven in 10 Labour MPs (73%) also value receiving a direct letter or email from a charity or community group, while more than three-quarters (76%) also like one-to-one meetings with them.

5. Engagement with Labour MPs would be more effective if the sector improved its understanding of the role of MPs.

According to the Commission research, MPs of all stripes feel that charities are held back by a lack of understanding about the mechanics of government and the role of MPs. However, some parliamentarians also acknowledged that MPs generally lack sufficient understanding of the variety of organisations which make up the charity sector. Charities and community groups looking to improve their understanding of government structures and the role of MPs should keep an eye on  resources from organisations like the Sheila McKechnie Foundation, as well as monitoring the work and events that the Institute for Government offers. Surveys of MPs are another resource that would be very useful to those looking to engage with MPs.

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