Scott Colvin’s book, How to use politicians to get what you want, has a delightful title and does a good job of living up to the high expectations it sets. Though there are plenty of books about politics in general and also about organising community campaigns, what Colvin’s book tries to do is carve out a niche by looking specifically at how to influence politicians and (despite their omission from the title) businesses. Whether it’s saving a local Post Office or dealing with a customer service disaster from an airline, his book sets out how to go about getting the result you want.
Helped by his own background in politics, the political section is particularly good at explaining how campaigns look from the politicians’ side of the fence and so how best to go about campaigning with a view to persuading politicians to change their minds. The business section is not quite as strong in this respect, particularly in not really giving a sense of how matters look to someone on the frontline of customer service. Politicians come out of the book as people who mostly want to do the right thing and you just need to find a way of helping them do this for you and your situation; businesses come out of the book in a far less flattering light: “the days of the customer is always right are long gone” he claims.
Even so, the advice is still good advice and though its frankness makes it a little controversial at times (especially his enthusiasm for over-egging the pudding about who you know and what contacts you’ll use if someone doesn’t do what you want) readers can pick which approaches they are comfortable with.
The book is packed full of both useful little tips, such as who to copy your letters to in order to maximise their impact, through to more general advice on how to plan a long campaign. He even gives a reference to The Theory & Practice of Community Politics by Bernard Greaves and Gordon Lishman as both a good guide to campaigning and a book that summarises a Liberal Democrat approach which has had a huge impact on politics and campaigning in Britain.
As someone who has worked in corporate lobbying, it is no surprise that Colvin is a keen defender of the practice of lobbying, and he does a good job at demystifying it, pointing out how many ordinary people do lobbying and what a small role the contact book and power lunch really play.
Even experienced campaigners may well pick up a tip or two from this book, but its real benefit is for those who are new to campaigning (or who think campaigning is the same as leafleting).