Friday 12th March saw more than 30 MPs and hundreds of electoral reform supporters take part in our first virtual lobby of Parliament, writes Sarah Hudspith, MVM’s Communications, Campaigns and Engagement Lead.

Unlike the People’s Lobby for Proportional Representation in 2018 where around 200 campaigners marched to Westminster to lobby their MP in person, this year’s event saw people campaigning for equal votes at home. That’s because COVID-19 lockdown restrictions prevented in-person gatherings, but that didn’t stop numerous individuals coming together online to try and convince their MP about the benefits of moving to a proportional voting system.

To help lobbyists prepare, Make Votes Matter produced some guidance including What to say to your MP, our mythbusting guide on how to counter some of the common arguments politicians make in favour of First Past the Post, and the Conservative case for PR. These handy guides are designed to be used at any time of the year, not just for the lobby. 

We also held a pre-lobby briefing and invited serving MP Wendy Chamberlain to join us and share her tips on successful lobbying. One of the important points she put forward is around getting your MP to commit to taking action. Whether that’s raising an Early Day Motion in the Commons to tweeting about meeting with constituents, Wendy’s advice was invaluable in helping everyone prepare for the big day.

Constituents from across England and Northern Ireland talked to a range of politicians including Shadow Chancellor Anneleise Dodds and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, along with a representative former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s office.

Sadly, a number of MPs weren’t willing to engage with their constituents, and either refused to meet or simply replied to say they didn’t agree with changing the voting system. So much for retaining the constituency link, which supporters of FPTP claim, incorrectly, is one of the pitfalls of proportional voting systems.

One of the MPs who declined a meeting is the Minister for the Constitution, Chloe Smith. The MP for Norwich North told constituents she believes First Past the Post should continue to be used for general elections because it produces ‘strong and stable governments’. 

I joined my colleague Emma Knaggs and two other constituents in the Bristol East constituency to lobby Kerry McCarthy MP. Kerry said she would do more to press the issue within the Labour Party, adding: “Our current electoral system, first past the post, produces disproportional results. It has also, historically, created large numbers of uncompetitive “safe seats” – although some of the traditional allegiances are breaking down – and means many voters either have their votes wasted or are forced to vote tactically. All of this leads to a lack of democratic engagement.

“I support a move to a more proportional voting system providing it maintains a link between MPs and their constituencies. I believe this constituency link is vital, as MPs should be held directly accountable for their work and voting records by their constituents. If this link can be maintained, as it is under some forms of Proportional Representation, I would vote for it.”

And MVM’s Surrinder Chera lobbied his Conservative MP in Hastings, Sally-Ann Hart. He said: “It did go rather well, and I got her to agree to read the Conservative case for PR, and actually informed her about MMP proportional systems and to some extent STV, and the common arguments about the constituency link. Her main reason for supporting the current system, which we disagree on, is that she feels it is simpler and leads to more stability.”

To see where other MPs stand on reform, visit our website.

Reflecting on the lobby, Emma Knaggs said: “Due to the current Covid-19 restrictions, activists from across the UK came together virtually on Friday 12th March to take part in the first Equal Votes Lobby. More than 30 MPs including Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds, Bath MP Wera Hobhouse and Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain joined constituents online to listen to their views on this important issue. 

“Thanks to hundreds of committed supporters who took a stand for what they believe in, a number of MPs are now acutely aware of the strength of feeling there is among UK voters to change the voting system.”

West Country Bylines

West Country Bylines

Media coverage of the Equal Votes Lobby

Some of the media coverage included members of MVM North London local group meeting a representative from the office of Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn. In East London, campaigners met Poplar and Limehouse MP Apsana Begum, as reported by the East London Advertiser. And in Totnes, campaigners who were denied an audience with their MP staged their own protest by going ahead with the lobby without their MP, Anthony Mangnall. He was represented by an empty chair, which was picked up by West Country Bylines, headlined No-show Mangnall fails to engage with democracy. In Bath, campaigners got a good splash in the Bath Chronicle. And Alistair Carmichael MP penned this op ed for the Liberal Democrat Voice.

East London Advertiser

East London Advertiser

Bath Chronicle

Bath Chronicle

Lib Dem Voice

Lib Dem Voice

Islington Tribune

Islington Tribune

And supporters also took to Twitter to share news of their virtual lobby meetings.

The lobby may have come and gone but there’s still time to sign the petition calling for MPs to support Proportional Representation. 

I can’t wait for the day when face-to-face meetings can resume and we can start organising in-person lobbying and events again. Until then, I would love to hear about what worked well, and what didn’t work so well at your own virtual lobbying event. What tips would you pass on to other people thinking of lobbying their MP?

Email your lobbying tips to local@makevotesmatter.org.uk and let us know your thoughts.