How to engage with politicians
Gavin Lockhart-Mirams gives his top tips for engaging with politicians at all levels
Hello. My name’s Gavin Lockhart-Mirams. I’m one of the directors here at Crest Advisory and what I want to talk to you about today is how to engage with politicians, whether they’re national politicians or local politicians. I’ve got four things for you to bear in mind when you go and speak to decision-makers.
The first thing is really about the importance of setting the scene.
However important your issue is, or your idea is, or your product and service is, it’s almost guaranteed that what you’re talking about is not going to be top of the list for a politician. Now as a specialist criminal justice consultancy, we see this all the time and, although we don’t do introductions, our clients do speak to decision-makers at a national level. And sometimes when they go into the Home Office and they’re talking about how to cut crime, they’re surprised that, for some ministers, that is not at that moment the top thing on their mind. They may be dealing with an immigration crisis or a counter-terrorism operation, so it’s really important to ground these conversations in understanding the wider context about what is going on and why this is an important idea. It’s also really important to understand that a politician may have some drivers and concerns that are unsaid, and making sure that you understand that before you go into the meeting is also really useful.
My second point is about using data and expertise.
Now I worked in the cabinet office for a while and in the Conservative party, so I’ve been on the other side of the fence for some of these conversations. And it’s amazing how often people used to come to meetings and just provide an informed opinion or, sometimes, an uninformed opinion. That really isn’t good enough. When you go to speak to politicians, you must bring expertise, you must use data, and you must be incredibly clear. So not: reinventing the wheel; having different people in the meeting saying different things. But use your experience as a provider or as someone from the public sector and help challenge the orthodoxies, some ideas that may have been prevalent that you want to change. So challenge where necessary and use evidence to do that.
My third point is about collaboration.
We have a fantastic mentor here at Crest Advisory – Bill Bratton who is the former police chief in Los Angeles and New York City – and he has emphasised the importance of collaboration. In fact he’s written a book about it called ‘Collaborate or Perish’. And when you are presenting an idea, you must bring other people with you – other organisations (particularly organisations that may be seen to be cognitive or concerned about your idea) – and come to meetings showing that you’ve actually tried to deal with that opposition. And, critically, don’t forget the public, because politicians of all shades and operating at whatever level, all want to be elected and they all want to know what the public think about particular issues.
And so the fourth area is ensuring that you are talking about the art of the possible.
Politicians are always in a hurry. They may not be in their job for as long as they think; they may have a fixed term; and they want to see things that are deliverable and that they can latch onto and show that they are making a success of. So those things are absolutely key – if you can take a politician out of Whitehall and Westminster and show them a project that’s working or show them an idea in action, that, in my experience, is incredibly valuable.
So, I hope that’s useful. Those are my four areas: ensure you set the scene; make sure that you use evidence and data to back your ideas (opinion alone does not count); ensure that you’re collaborating, that you’re bringing a group of people with you; and making sure that you’re also able to articulate what is really possible. So those are my four tips, If you’d like any more information please do get hold of us and look at our website, and we’d be delighted to help. Thanks very much.