What can you do when you feel you have no common ground with your MP? Hope for the Future supported Wycombe constituent, Jo Howard, to meet with her MP Steve Baker. There didn’t seem to be much common ground between the two. But through an understanding of Steve’s core values, Jo managed to have a constructive conversation with him. Jo writes about her experience with the reminder to not be discouraged if you can’t find the common ground…
My first encounter with Steven Baker MP was in 2016, as part of a group of local constituents at the Climate Coalition mass lobby of Parliament that June. I knew from that event that climate change was not a subject of particular interest to him. Nevertheless, as someone concerned about the effects of climate change, I wanted to find a way to continue to engage with my MP on the issue in a meaningful way. Brexit has long been the top issue on Mr Baker’s agenda, so after the 2016 referendum result, I felt discouraged about trying to secure his interest in a subject which was of low priority for him.
A chance encounter with Hope for the Future at the Greenbelt Festival in 2017 gave me the encouragement to persist. I sought help in how to frame a constructive dialogue with my MP when I knew we would have little in the way of shared concerns. Hope for the Future resources and an encouraging conversation with Sarah Robinson helped me to see that I might find common ground with Mr Baker in areas such as transport policy, green technology and potential opportunities for the UK to take a lead on environmental issues post-Brexit. The Hope for the Future website was a really helpful resource for further reading and for learning about recent research and developments in these areas.
I had an encouraging response to an initial letter to Mr Baker in early 2018, although little in the way of concrete action. A further letter did not elicit any response, but I managed to secure a meeting with him in February 2019. The constituency office had asked me to email beforehand with details on what I wanted to discuss and links to any supporting documents. I decided to focus on transport and specifically to ask for Mr Baker’s support for an upcoming Private Members’ Bill on standardisation of electric vehicle charging points. This is an issue that is important to me as a constituent who would like their next car to be electric.
I was realistic about the level of enthusiasm I was likely to encounter in Mr Baker but was determined to be as constructive as possible and avoid being side-tracked into disputing areas we were never going to agree on. On the whole I felt that the meeting went well, given the limitations of our differing perspectives. Mr Baker made it clear that he was not enthusiastic about the climate change cause and didn’t want me to have unrealistic expectations about the action he would be willing to take. We did however have an interesting and, I felt, respectful conversation. Mr Baker was able to agree that if electric vehicles were increasing in number it was important to have an efficient infrastructure in place. As someone with an engineering background he understood the need for sensible solutions to practical problems, even when he was not enthusiastic about the wider cause. Mr Baker agreed to speak to Bill Wiggin MP, who had introduced the Private Members’ Bill and asked his caseworker to follow up on information I had mentioned about targets for transition to electric vehicles in other countries.
A meeting with someone where there is little common ground is never going to be easy. If I hadn’t encountered Hope for the Future, I would either have been discouraged from asking for a meeting with my MP at all, or approached it with a confrontational mindset which would have been counter-productive for all. As it was, we were able to find a limited area in which we could engage constructively. I will continue to look for areas in which there might be shared interest in the future.
If you would like support in engaging your MP or councillors on climate change, contact us.