Monday, March 30, 2015

Operation Mobilise: A pause in the fighting

So, the big date is here at last.

30 March has always been our deadline for In Battalions: Operation Mobilise. That's because Parliament is formally dissolved today, which means it is also the official commencement of hostilities in the general election campaign. Technically, your MP is no longer an MP but a candidate fighting for re-election. (Technically, it means the UK doesn't actually have a Government for 5 weeks, but let's try not to worry about that and hope we don't need one for a while.) 

But the main reason the date is significant to our campaign is because it means you no longer have your MPs' attention any more - unless they knock on your door, in which case by all means bring up the issue of arts funding. But for now, cease fire, put down your weapons and take a deep breath, soldier. Because for the next five weeks, Operation Mobilise is paused

I say paused because there will be a Part Two, but we'll get to that in a moment. But for now, let's enjoy the lull in the fighting, relax, have a drink and look back on what we've achieved.

Let's all have a pint and watch the election

For an idea which was born in a pub, Operation Mobilise hasn't done too badly. Our In Battalions Crowdmap has been charting our progress. In total, 44 copies of the In Battalions report were sent to MPs across 34 constituencies. 

Here's the full list:

Manchester Central
Hackney North
Islington North
Leeds North East
Holborn and St Pancras
Brentford and Isleworth
Hornsey and Wood Green
North Thanet
Lewisham and Penge
Nottingham East
Islington South and Finsbury
Camberwell and Peckham
Ruislip and Pinner
Brent Central
East Ham
St Albans
Richmond Park
York Central
Bermondsey and Southwark
Hackney and Shoreditch
Bethnal Green and Bow
Coventry North West

So, there's a preponderance in London and the south-east, but we got as far north as Harrogate, as far north-west as Manchester, as far west as Stroud and as far east as North Thanet and Colchester, with Nottingham and Coventry representing for the Midlands. So not too bad a spread. 

Very few constituencies received multiple reports. The highest was Hackney North with five, followed by Holborn and St Pancras with three, but that's mostly because a year group of student from MA Dramatic Writing at Central Saint Martins (where I am a visiting tutor and got them all fired up) sent a bulk batch, and lots of them live in the same constituencies nearby. A handful of other constituencies got two, but overall we spread ourselves out quite well given the numbers taking part.

So, first of all, a big Thank You to everyone who took part. You have done a Heroic Act and tonight there are many more MPs who are aware of this issue than who would otherwise have given it any thought. Together, we really are stronger and although we only hit 5.2% of the 650 UK constituencies this was basically all done via goodwill, word of mouth and Twitter. It didn't involve any kind of mainstream publicity (save an honourable mention from the ever-supportive Lyn Gardner, The Stage and the Writers' Guild of Great Britain) or any large organisation getting behind us. Yet at times it really did feel like we had a bit of a head of steam, so I think we can fairly say Well Done Us.

And for those of you who didn't get your act together in time, there is still another opportunity. But more on that in a moment.

In the meantime, many of you have been tweeting and emailing letters of response from your MPs which you have received. This is great. Someone was even offered a meeting with their MP about this issue, if re-elected. That's even greater. You should definitely take them up on it if your MP offers this. (If you're nervous about what to say get in touch and let's talk it through.)

Several of the letters have offered to write to Ed Vaizey on their constituents' behalf. This is less good. Not only will it annoy him (you will recall that he was the whole reason In Battalions came about in the first place) but it also shows that your MP hasn't read the report properly. In the report's Introduction it clearly describes the genesis of the report being the comments Ed Vaizey made to me when I met him in Parliament at the end of 2012. Even the most cursory Google of 'In Battalions' brings up the protracted and public exchange of letters he and I had about it. 

But perhaps more importantly, your MP writing to Ed Vaizey about this issue isn't the point. This issue has been raised at Ed Vaizey's level already. Operation Mobilise was more about getting it onto the agenda of constituency MPs, for them to recognise its importance to ordinary voters when they next come across it.

So, I would like to encourage everyone who has received a letter to write back making some of these points. In order to support you in doing so, I'd like to propose that everyone who has received a reply scan or photograph it and email it to my tireless In Battalions helper Liberty Martin. Liberty will collate them all and send them on to me. I am genuinely curious to read them to see how MPs have been responding to this issue, but also to see if there are any recurring themes or points they are making. If you can do this then I pledge to write another blog post in a few weeks collating these recurring points and listing what I would argue is the best response. Then you can use that to craft your own letter in your own name and send it to your MP, assuming they are re-elected.

Which brings me on to my final point: Operation Mobilise Part Two.

At last summer's In Battalions Festival, professional lobbyist and What Next stalwart Rosie Luff made the point that there are two times to write to your MP: just before and just after an election. Putting aside for a moment that this depressingly seems to suggest they couldn't care less outside these times, this means that we have another window of opportunity after 7 May.

Keep an eye on what happens in your constituency. Here are some possible scenarios and what to do in the eventuality that they arise. This is how Operation Mobilise Part Two is going to work. (If I knew how to put this into a flow chart on Blogger I would, but I don't, so I can't):

1. Your MP is re-elected. You sent them the report before the election and they responded.

What to do: Write back congratulating them on their win and responding to the points they made with help from my forthcoming blog post (see above).

2. Your MP is re-elected. You sent them the report before the election and didn't get a response.

What to do: Write back congratulating them on their win and asking for a response to the report now that the election is over.

3. Your MP is not re-elected. You sent them the report before they election and maybe they responded, maybe they didn't but it doesn't matter now because they've been booted out.

What to do: Write to your new MP congratulating them on their win and sending them a copy of the original report and cover letter. Await response.

4. Your MP is not re-elected. But like an arse you didn't get round to sending the report anyway.

What to do: Now is your time to shine! Albeit retrospectively. Send the new MP the original report and cover letter. Await response.

Newly-elected MPs can be ridden like this hog

I think that just about covers it. 

Now get that pint, sit back and watch the 24-hour election coverage, heckling loudly.


P.s. My previous 'save the date' p.s. about Weds 17 June (all day) still stands. We are planning a major In Battalions event shortly after the election. More details soon....