Some of the left-wing bloggers in the US are debating the merits of writing letters to elected representatives regarding key issues. Matthew Yglesias argues that this is surprisingly effective; Balloon-Juice makes this point:
Several staffers told me that until we started calling and writing about the Affordable Care Act, almost every call they got came from [Glen] Beck fans screaming about crap like death panels and the gold standard. The only other feedback that most of them had to work with was CNN replaying clips of Barney Frank debating whether to give up. Congress jumps at every rightwing whim at least in part because their media does an excellent job motivating a pissed-off rabble to phone their Reps. This is not even a bug – democracy should work like that. Congresspersons must respect feedback from constituents. It is their job.
Other commentators note that e-mails aren’t that effective but letters and faxes and phone calls are. But that’s the US – any staffers or politicians in the house want to offer up their opinions and advice on this issue from a New Zealand perspective? (One press sec I know tells me a surprising amount of his Minister’s correspondence is from the mentally ill.) What’s the best way to communicate with an MP on an issue, and is there much point in doing so?
Update: A staffer for a senior politician writes:
There is no hard and fast way to best influence MP’s. It largely comes down to how individual MP’s deal with correspondence. For example, my MP manages their parliamentary email account so they receive and read all correspondence from constituents. Others, however, do not. Therefore, email may not be the most effective way to influence MP’s.
Calling MP’s is, in my opinion, the worst way to influence MP’s. 9 times out of 10 the MP in question will not have time to deal with non-urgent phone calls and, more often than not, just can’t be bothered talking to a constituent anyway. For example, my MP never takes calls from constituents and will rarely bother contacting people who have left messages.
In my opinion one of the most effective ways to influence MP’s, besides face to face meetings, is to write an old fashioned letter. My MP pays particular attention to hand written letters and letters sent in from people in a personal capacity. Pro-forma letters, for example letters from lobbyists, are almost always disregarded.
All EA’s sort through mail each morning and compile a folder usually labeled “today’s mail”, “constituent mail” etc etc and MP’s will read each letter (besides pro-forma rubbish). Any letter that requires a response will be marked by the MP and filed. In most cases the EA, but sometimes the MP, will draft a response and, upon approval, enter into correspondence with the constituent. MP’s always read their mail and will always respond to letters from people in their electorate. The best way to get an MP’s attention is to make clear that you are a constituent and that the MP is your representative. The MP is then obligated to read the letter, consider it and, where necessary, respond.
Without a doubt though, the best way to influence an MP is through face to face discussions. However, it is incredibly difficult to obtain a meeting even with the lowliest of backbenchers. You either have to be somebody or you have to know somebody. This option is not available to ordinary folk.
Ultimately, if you want to influence an MP you need to know how their office works or how Parliament works. So if a person was serious about getting something done ones best bet would be to enlist someone who knows the inner workings of Parliament. Again, this isn’t an option available to most people though.