What the General Election means for campaigns

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Wondering what the general election means for campaigns? Now that the Prime Minister has called for a UK General Election on 4 July, Parliament will be prorogued on Friday 24 May and dissolution will take place on Thursday 30 May.

Any parliamentary business not completed (sent for Royal Assent) by the end of “wash-up” will not enter into law and cannot be continued into the next parliament.

For campaigners and public affairs teams trying to influence and change legislation, the end of parliament can be a significant setback. However, a change of government can also bring new opportunities.

It’s essential that teams and campaigns adapt quickly in the period before the election to build as much influence and achieve as much cut-through in the pre-election period as possible, to set themselves up for success when the new government comes in.

Here’s what the General Election means for campaigns, and what you should do now:

Parliamentary Petitions

Petitions can be an effective way to demonstrate support for an issue. 

Their impact in Parliament and on legislation is limited, but they can be a good starting point to build public momentum behind a campaign and begin engaging political stakeholders.

Petitions usually stay open on the parliamentary petitions website for 6 months. If they achieve the 100,000 signature threshold, the Petitions Committee will consider the issue for parliamentary debate – but this is not guaranteed, even if you do reach the threshold.

Now that the election has been called, all petitions will close at 00.01am on Thursday 30 May. All open petitions will be closed and will no longer be able to be signed. They won’t be reopened after the election.

The Government can’t respond during the election period. It will be up to the new Government to decide whether to respond to petitions from before the election.

The current Petitions Committee (the group of MPs who decide which petitions are debated) will no longer exist when Parliament is dissolved. 

Decisions about whether to debate any petitions from the current Parliament will be the responsibility of the new Petitions Committee.

What should you do now?

If you currently have a petition open, you now have a few days left to get as many signatures as possible.

Depending on the issue you’re trying to raise awareness of, this may present opportunities to engage the media and leverage the sense of urgency presented by Thursday’s deadline to build more support – especially if your campaign is related to a ‘top 3’ priority issue or something that is polling with high levels of public support or concern (and therefore likely to be a key doorstop and debate issue in election campaigns). Don’t neglect local media – profiling a local campaigner can be a great way for them to make election reporting relevant to their audience base.

You should seek to engage candidates in your area on the issue to start building relationships with whoever may be your next local MP. You could also run a campaign asking your supporter base to discuss the issue with their local candidates too – and should consider giving them key talking points and guidance on how to do so.

When the manifestos are released, you should analyse where the parties stand on your issue to identify potential supporters, and leverage this as a key media and public engagement moment. If your issue is mentioned in televised debates, you can also leverage this on social media to build awareness and traction.

You can start a new petition when parliament reopens but cannot transfer over existing signatures. Given how busy the new government will be in the first 90 days, and how limited petitions are in terms of direct parliamentary impact, you should carefully consider whether starting from scratch is a good use of time and resources – or whether you can leverage the existing supporter base you have built to take the next campaigning steps. 

You may find that engaging relevant All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs), stakeholders in the House of Lords, consultations and committees may be a more effective way to build influence, and could potentially leverage any relationships built now with successful candidates to secure a question in Parliament, as an important stepping stone to bring your issue to the table.

(Download our free General Election 2024 briefing for a full list of MPs due to stand down, public polling data and policy positions we know so far).

Letter Writing Campaigns

As with petitions, letter writing is most useful if used as part of a well-planned wider campaign strategy. It can help demonstrate that people feel strongly about an issue, and this can help put pressure on decision makers. 

Your local MP is your representative in Westminster. While they have a duty to represent you and consider your concerns, they are not obliged to respond to template-based letters sent en masse, and they also have to balance their duty to their constituents with their duty to the party and the country, so you should consider the wider context of your letter writing campaign and find ways to make it as effective as possible.

MPs cannot correspond with their constituents in the pre-election period, as they are no longer an MP.

What should you do now?

If you have been running a letter writing campaign, now is the time to bring it to a close, as MPs will no longer be able to correspond with constituents after dissolution on Thursday 30 May. 

Your next steps will largely depend on what you were asking your MP to do. With parliament coming to an end, and at least 105 MPs standing down, it’s highly unlikely that the MPs you and your supporters have contacted so far will take immediate further action.

However, those that are campaigning for their seats will likely be engaging with local events, door knocking and meet and greets. You should empower your supporters to discuss the issue you’re campaigning for with local candidates from all parties – especially in areas where the MP is standing down or likely to lose.

Although their activities are on hold until after the election, many APPGs will be considering how they can brief new MPs on their focus issue, so you may also want to consider how you can build and leverage relationships with larger influential stakeholders and add value by sharing the feedback you’ve had from your campaign so far.

Private Members’ Bills and Ten Minute Rule Bills

Private Members’ bills are legislation introduced by MPs and peers who are not government ministers. 

They can technically be passed and come into law but they rarely do so. Instead, they typically aim to draw attention to a certain issue, gather support from other members of the house and influence government legislation.

These are an excellent way to put much-needed change and change that is supported by the public in front of parliament without already having the government of the day’s support. 

They allow lobbyists and campaigners to build a coalition of politicians and the public around their issue or cause. 

Some of the most important legislation ever passed by parliament has been (or started life as) Private Members’ Bills, including the Abortion Act 1967. 

However, now that we are in “wash-up”, the government will not allot time to Private Members’ Bills, which means they are not going to pass before parliament ends. 

For many campaigns, this will mean back to square one once the new government is in place.

Key environmental Private Members’ Bills unlikely to pass include:

  • Bathing Waters (Monitoring and Reporting) Bill – currently awaiting 2nd reading in the House of Commons
  • Climate and Ecology Bill – currently awaiting 2nd reading in the House of Commons
  • Ecocide Bill [HL] – currently awaiting 2nd reading in the House of Lords

What should you do now?

The key to success for Private Members’ Bills (PMBs) lies in building sufficient cross-party support to ensure turnout for debates, so that the PMB progresses through parliament.

Private Members’ Bills (PMBs) are bills introduced by MPs and Peers who are not government ministers. Your next steps will largely depend on the supporter base you have built so far, and how likely it is to change.

You should identify which MPs supporting your PMB are stepping down, and which are likely to lose, and start considering how you will establish a renewed supporter base within the new government.

The pre-election period is an excellent time to build relationships with candidates, and leverage manifesto positions and debates to bring public attention to your issue.

How we can help

181st Street is a full-service communications agency. Our team is made up of highly experienced public affairs professionals, policy researchers, former government advisors and green ambassadors. Our Public Affairs specialists have direct government experience, and we are the only sustainability-focused communications agency with a successful track record of changing policy in this country, securing wins for political parties and actively lobbying for change, leveraging behavioural science to shift public opinion and consumer/citizen behaviour.

We’ve helped shape policy on key issues from plastic packaging, food waste, and free school meals, to deforestation, sustainable fashion and anti-greenwashing legislation.

Download our free UK General Election briefing here, and if you would like support with your election campaign, media training, PR or communications, please get in touch: hello@181street.com