Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In Battalions: Operation Mobilise

CALLING ALL THEATRE-MAKERS!!!

The 2015 General Election is almost upon us. Parliament will be dissolved on Monday 30 March, after which campaigning begins in earnest across all UK constituencies. 

Those of you who have been paying attention will have noticed that I held an open meeting late last year to discuss whether or not my In Battalions campaign has run its course, or whether it had a role to play in the run-up to the May 2015 election. 

The answer was a most resounding: YES (to the second bit).

Drumroll please ... It is time for the Battalion to mobilise!

Look at us in our finery

Here's the plan:

The original In Battalions report from 2013 made quite a splash. It went from a personal project to gather some evidence on the effects of government cuts to the Arts Council (for an incredulous Ed Vaizey) to become a campaign with national profile, broadsheet coverage, thousands of downloads and questions tabled in both chambers of the Houses of Parliament. It was even credited with having been an influence on the Chancellor George Osborne. 

I've since got a new job so I don't have time to take on anything on this scale again. However, as someone rightly pointed out at the campaign meeting last year, all the issues within the original report remain current. A General Election is an ideal opportunity to make more use of the research which has already been done, and to collectively share the workload - and cost.

Operation Mobilise will involve making a pledge to:

  • Download a copy of the 2013 In Battalions report.
  • Print out a paper copy of the report in full (48 pages) and staple it together.
  • Go onto Find Your MP and get the name and postal address of your local MP.
  • Post the report to your MP, with a covering letter explaining why you are doing so (more on this below)
  • Send an email to my wonderful In Battalions helper Liberty Martin, telling her that you have done this, and which constituency you live in.
  • Tell the whole of Facebook and Twitter and your entire email address book that you have done A Great Thing and encourage them to do the same (include a link to these instructions).
  • Hashtags = #InBattalions #OperationMobilise (See below for some ready-made tweets).
  • Liberty will add your Heroic Act to the In Battalions Crowdmap, so that we can see at a glance just how many constituencies we have managed to hit, and where we still need to target.
  • Watch in shock and awe as all the past five years' Arts Council cuts are reversed!

Well alright, maybe not the last one. 

But a concerted, coordinated effort of this kind is likely to place this issue onto the agenda of MPs across the country, at a time when they are open to hearing our concerns - and hopefully articulating their own policies for what they intend to do in response. At the very least it extracts further value from the work that has already been done, and does so in a way which spreads the printing and postage costs so that we only have to do one each.

I expect you've got a lot of questions. I have thought of some of them already.

Do I have to print a paper copy? Why can't I just email my MP a link to the report online, or send it as an attachment?
MPs get thousands of emails a day. Many don't even read them personally, but get some assistant to do so and write a bland, standardised response. Emails are easy to ignore, or delete, as are file attachments. Hardly anyone writes paper letters to their MP any more. Doing so gets noticed. Doing so and enclosing a 48-page report makes a powerful thump on the doormat. You then have a physical presence in their office, which is a lot harder to ignore. Someone will have to physically throw the report away, which is more deliberate and more conscience-pricking than deleting an email. Please do not email your MP the report. You may as well blow a kiss in their direction.

Posting it will be expensive won't it?
Here's the current rates. It's likely to be about three quid. Pull yourself together, soldier.

Do I have to send a cover letter? I don't know what to write.
Sending the report without an explanation makes no sense. It isn't clear what your concerns are. I've written a template cover letter which you can use, or adapt, and uploaded it here.

What if someone other than my current MP wins the seat?
A very good point. Keep an eye on this. If someone else wins then write to them after May 7 to congratulate them, and send them another copy of the report. You can use most of the same cover letter again. I will try to remember to do another blog post to remind you. Alternatively, if you're feeling really generous, you could send a copy of the report to every candidate standing in your constituency. That ought to cover all the bases. But I'll leave that up to you.

Why do I have to do the Crowdmap thing?
You don't - Liberty is going to do it for you if you email her. But do make sure you tell her you've enacted your pledge. Crowdmap is an excellent way to see at a glance just how the campaign is going, and where else we still need to target. It will be useful to be able to put a call out to regions where we're looking a bit thin on the ground. So please do send Liberty that email after posting your report.

What if I look at the Crowdmap and see that someone has already posted it to my MP?
Post it to them again. It doesn't matter if some MPs get lots of copies - on the contrary, it will make quite an impact and show how seriously their constituents are taking this issue. MPs have a little known formula they use to calculate what proportion of their constituents are likely to be concerned about any given issue. One letter on one issue is often taken to stand for a percentage of constituents - most of whom haven't bothered to write in. Imagine what they'd think if they got ten or twenty copies of In Battalions?

My MP has written back debunking everything in the report, or with a load of guff about how committed their party is to arts and culture...
That's to be expected. I will be writing another blog post in due course looking at likely responses on this issue, and what the counter-arguments are. Don't you worry, your Battalion Commander will be providing you with all the ammunition you need...

That's pretty much it. I hope you'll join me in this. It isn't much to ask and feels like an easy way of working together to have a greater impact than any of us could alone.

So ...Who's in? 

Sign up for Operation Mobilise below.

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UPDATE 25 February: Some people seem to be finding that Scribd.com has started charging for a subscription to download what should be a free document . I've changed the links above to connect to a copy of the report on Google Drive instead. Download it directly from Google Drive here.

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Some ready-made tweets which are good to go:

I'm doing this. Can you too?  Quick, easy, cheap, big impact on UK theatre funding.  

ATTENTION THEATRE-MAKERS!! We can have a voice in the 2015 election. Here's how:   

Play your part in lobbying for UK arts and culture - I've signed up, have you?   

Theatre Folk! A call to arms before the general election from

I've heard the call to arms and written to my MP today . You can too.

How to lobby. 1) Download 2) Print 3) Send to MP 4) Email 5) Vote.

Remember to tweet every few days if you can, we need to get this trending as a meme before Parliament dissolves on 30 March.

You can also follow my updates on Twitter (@finkennedy) to re-tweet my own tweets and for news of the campaign as it unfolds. 

To join the In Battalions email mailing list drop me a line and I'll add you.  Press enquiries can also be directed to this address.

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PS. There will be more from In Battalions later in the year, including another conference at Central Saint Martins college on Weds 17 June. More soon but for now, save the date!