Friday July 13: Connect with your MP

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FROM THE Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell to Linda Riordan, the left-wing Labour member for Halifax, MPs from across the political divide...

FROM THE Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell to Linda Riordan, the left-wing Labour member for Halifax, MPs from across the political divide have taken up the invitations of licensees to drop into their local pub on Friday, July 13.

The turn-out from Westminster is, in itself, a tremendous vindication of pubs and the industry at large. The reaction shows that pubs do strike a chord with politicians ­ and that the MPs know that if they can make a connection with a local pub, they will be making a connection with every member of their constituency who drops in there.

Nick Bish, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, says that for an MP it can only be a win-win situation to meet their local licensee.

"The MP is partly interested in the pub as a business," he says. "But they will also be interested in all of their constituents that come into your pub and what you tell them about the visit. It¹s a way of them speaking to a much larger audience."

Constructive meeting

Whether or not you have a politician coming into your pub during Proud of Pubs Week, it¹s an invitation that could well have a benefit at any time.

But what¹s key is that when you come face-to-face with your MP, make sure you make it a constructive meeting, and that you think up a strategy in advance.

Don¹t just use it as an excuse for a moan: as well as an opportunity to set out your issues, a meeting with an MP will give you a chance to talk about all the great things pubs do, and give them something positive to take back to Westminster for the future.

Iain Loe, head of policy and public affairs at the Campaign for Real Ale, advises licensees to:

­ think of two or three key points you would like to raise in the meeting beforehand

­ think of who else you might like to join you for your meeting

­ and make sure you make full use of the PR opportunity by informing local media about the visit.

When it comes to key issues, Iain argues that it is better to focus on current policies which are still being formulated, such as the National Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy and polycarbonate glasses, rather than laws which are already in place, such as the smoking ban.

"When it comes to talking about your own business, why not identify a couple of regular locals who can come in to speak to their MP?" he says. "If there are any sports teams or other organisations which meet in the pub, why don¹t you get some of them to join in?

"What MPs would really love is if you can put out a press release, either before or after the event, to help get them in the paper. MPs love getting into local newspapers, and anything you can do to help them do that will be appreciated."

Above all, they must approach the meeting in a friendly, positive way ­ a point which Nick Bish underlines.

"Reverse roles ­ if you were the MP you¹d like to come out with some positive action you could take away and tell people you are going to do something about," he says. "Help the MP to help you ­ don¹t just regard him as some sort of counsellor."

Beneficial for both sides

Solihull MP Lorely Burt (pictured) visited the Golden Acres in her constituency in February. The visit worked well for both sides, with lessees Simon and Kerry Carter discussing their pub¹s recent change of ownership with the MP, and a prominent article about the visit appearing on page two of their local newspaper, the Solihull Observer.

"There were a lot of issues that we wanted to raise as our pub was recently passed from Punch to a development company. She was very supportive, and told us she would be raising the issues further," says Simon."³The visit created a lot of attention for us. People do read the local newspapers, and the publicity we got definitely got them more interested in the pub."

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