A time to lobby

Since the surprise election result, the last couple of months have involved a fair bit of lobbying of the new government to ensure they stick to their pre-election promises.

This started with the mass Speak Up lobby on 17 June organised by the Climate Coalition, where 9000 people lobbied 330+ MP’s, and culminated in meeting our local MP David Gauke, and getting a letter back from Lord Bourne at the Department for Climate Change.  They talk a good talk, but actions speak louder than words, and the extensive cut-backs to support for a clean energy future do not look good at all.  I find myself swaying from optimism about what we can do locally and the technology coming through, to concern and even anger at the lack of political will to lead.Speak_Up Prior to 17 June, I obediently got in touch with David Gauke’s office following the suggestion on the Climate Coalition website after I signed myself up for the lobby.  I got a fairly timely response, informing me that Mr Gauke would meet me and other constituents within the lobby of the Houses of Parliament.

The day arrived, without my having found time to prepare hugely.  I got on a train with Nigel Crawley from Tring, and we discovered that neither of us really knew what was going on.  We ended up following a blob on a digital map that was over the wrong place, but did just about get to Westminster with enough time to get through security before the meeting.

Only we talked to one of the organisers, who informed us that too many people had turned up to fit in the lobby, and we should make our way round to the other side of the river, where everyone was gathering waiting for MPs to be shuttled over on rickshaws.  It took us a lot of walking up and down before we found out that our South West Herts constituency was lumped in with the East Anglia region, and a few more fellow South West Hertsonians joined us.

I had left a few messages with Gauke’s office to say there were too many of us to meet him in the building, and he should get himself out on a rickshaw.  I was a little disappointed that not everyone I was expecting turned up.  I needn’t have worried – they had got there earlier, and been directed inside (they wrote a beautiful account).  We should have gone in when we had the chance.  But I think it was fate.

I had to shoot off before the end to meet some potential partners in a sizeable local solar farm, bumping into Andy Burnham, challenger in the Labour leadership contest, en-route.  He was waiting in his very shiny shoes at Westminster tube station.  I used my well-rehearsed and perfected routine for talking to famous people – say hello, confirm their name, say “you don’t know who I am” and introduce yourself, then start up a natural conversation.  We talked about the lobby event and climate policy in general.  He said he hadn’t made it to the lobby, but had a lot of sympathy with the aims.  He told me one of the policies he is standing for as leader is a moratorium on fracking, and described the Conservative policies on onshore wind as “insane, pure insanity”.  When the tube train pulled in, I made sure to get on at a different door to avoid over-staying my welcome.

Given Gauke missed out on an earful from me, the following Thursday I phoned his office to arrange to meet him at an MP surgery.  The following day I was cycling to Tring through the rain to see him.  I had a much more prepared message for him, to find out about their apparently self-contradictory policies and suggest that they should take more leadership in persuading their supporters to give their support for effective climate policy.

More on how that went in a few days…

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For the love

I love walking with friends and family, or on my own, in the summer, winter, autumn and the spring.  I love a good book.  I love eating.  I love my wife.  I love my children.  For the love of all that I care for, we must get to grips with climate change.

You’re now supposed to be ripe and ready to have a conversation about what it means to tackle climate change.  The “For the love of…” campaign of the Climate Coalition has been carefully designed and researched to have the maximum impact on those people who are ready to talk about climate change.

The research was carried out by COIN (Climate Outreach and Information Network), who ran workshops with a range of people to understand what messages worked, and what fell flat.  Not surprisingly, they found that people find most existing rhetoric on climate change disenfranchising, over-presumptive and preachy.  Pictures of polar bears and discussions of the “most serious threat we face” are a turn-off.  Certainly explains why it’s only really the “converted” that read my blog.

The one message that did gain traction was in tapping into people’s emotions and asking them what they love.  Almost certainly, whatever that is will be under threat by climate change.  You can then say something like “For the love of chocolate, we must do something about climate change”.  And so the conversation starts and is remembered.

This only works for people when the example is something real and precise, rather than abstract.  “For the love of the future” wouldn’t cut it.  It seems that the more emotional the connection and the unexpected the example the better. “For the love of a decent pitch” might work.  Above all, the message will be respected if it is seen as being said with integrity.

Next Monday I’ll be going to a meeting with the Climate Coalition to discuss the launch of this campaign, with 80 other representatives of the 100 or so organisations that form the coalition, representing their millions of supporters.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

There were a couple of other interesting insights in the COIN research.  One was that conservatives and community-minded optimists (like me) alike identified avoiding waste as a core value.  I wonder if the information that we dump 40kg of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for every 1kg of waste we put in landfill would bring a few more people along?

The other titbit of information in the COIN research was that a lot of people involved thought that examples of real people doing real things to solve the climate change problem would be persuasive.  Diverse voices work.  I’m glad to hear it, as that is the focus of the Power Shift UK conference in London on 3/4 May.

John Bell

Ordinary Bloke