Advocacy is one of the many actions individuals can take to help tackle the climate and ecological emergencies the world is facing. Caring for God's creation is a key part of Christian living.
Political advocacy, often called 'lobbying' is broadly described as engaging with democratic political process in order to pressure and persuade government to make or limit new laws and/or change or keep promises and laws it has made.
Writing to your local councillor, MP, or Government Minister can feel fruitless. Making the time and effort to visit your MP’s ‘surgery’ even more so. Why, then, bother? Why does local and individual advocacy matter?
Advocacy is important because sharing opinions and concerns with our local and national representatives is essential to a healthy and balanced democracy. The climate and ecological emergencies are a complicated whole-system issue and without effective advocacy, our local and national representatives are certain to get some things badly wrong. The voice of people across the country is a vital source of understanding and counterbalance for legislators. When it joins together with others saying similar things, democratic representation makes good and effective sense.
Decarbonisation holds out very particular challenges for our democratic representatives because of its complexity and urgency:
- To reach even Net Zero the UK needs a comprehensive plan with specific targets and measurable checkpoints and these will need to be understandable and acceptable to the majority,
- Legislators need a clear mandate from the country to lawfully require the kinds of change that would otherwise be resisted/unpopular with strong but vested minority interests
- The Government needs to be accountable to the electorate for its activities to retain that mandate
Who does political lobbying and advocacy?
We probably associate lobbying most strongly with business interests, but politicians are lobbied by a much broader range of voices in practice.
- Business: Overtly lobbying associated with business interests like ‘Big Tobacco’, Oil and Gas majors, industry bodies, etc. But, some businesses and wealthy individuals seek to further their own interests by advocating covertly. This approach depends on opaque funding and in the USA is known as ‘astroturfing’.
- Special interest groups lobby and advocate on their own expert interests such as the National Trust or RSPB. They also frequently work together in coalition on shared areas of concern, e.g., Green Alliance.
- Victim groups: These groups, though often small, can be a very good at helping (and sometimes forcing!) governments to hear from an otherwise forgotten or ignored margin.
- Individuals: You can write to any elected official you want to, not least your constituency MP. You can also write to the relevant government Minister directly at their government department.
When to advocate?
Advocacy can sometimes feel very lonely and daunting and a waste of your own time. So, there are several ways you can join with others who care about the same issues:
- Sign a petition alongside other
- Join a campaigning organisation
- Look for local activity and fellow campaigners
How to advocate: a quick overview of the parliamentary system
The UK Parliament consists of two legislative houses. The House of Commons holds around 650 MPs and the House of Lords about 800 peers, including 92 hereditary peers and 26 Church of England bishops. The rest of the Lords has been selected by previous governments mostly on the basis of senior roles in business, politics, and civil society. Both houses can introduce primary legislation and the House of Commons always and alone has the final vote.
Under the current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, the government has an effective majority of 71 in the House of Commons. Key ministers for the environment and climate change are:
- Thérèse Coffey (Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)
- Alok Sharma (COP26 President)
- Graham Stuart (Minister for Climate – Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)
How is new legislation created?
The parliament website provides useful information about how new laws are made and the different consultation processes.
A Government will often run a public consultation on its proposals inviting responses from expert groups and the general public. Consultations are launched continually on a vast range of topics and with differing amounts of time to respond, though typically the process is open for one to three months. This is one way in which advocacy can materially contribute to creating stronger and better laws.
The government uses consultation responses to help create a draft bill and a committee is then formed to scrutinise the draft bill line by line. The committee takes evidence from interested and expert groups. This is another way in which advocacy can contribute to creating stronger and better laws.
A Committee will publish its report with recommendations to the government for improving the draft bill. Amendments to the draft can be added by government and the opposition parties and are debated and voted on and the revised bill is passed to the other house. Where the two houses cannot agree on a final version of the bill this process is often called ‘ping-pong’, amendments are made to the bill from both houses until the draft is agreed by a majority in the House of Commons.
During this stage, local and personal advocacy can effectively challenge, retain and reinforce existing legislation in the face of other pressures and temptations. Contact any member of the Commons or House of Lords.
Whatever you do, do something
Even the most effective advocacy will feel, at least some of the time, like pushing the proverbial stone forever up a steepening hill. But democracy is a marathon, not a sprint. The consistent presence and pressure of individual and corporate advocacy is an essential aspect of a healthy and balanced democracy. The presence of advocacy offers some balance for the more negative consequences of secretive and paid for lobbying.
There’s never a bad time to write or phone or lobby your local councillor or MP!