Guide to meeting your electoral candidates

This guide will give you tips for setting up and making the most of meetings with election candidates in your area.

01 Sep 2021

Meeting with electoral candidates is a really important way of understanding their priorities and a chance to identify how committed they are to acting on the climate and ecological emergencies.

It's also a great opportunity to:

  • discuss ways you think your area can become as climate friendly as possible
  • influence the manifesto commitments made by candidates.

That's why it's important to try to secure a meeting as early as possible, before such commitments are made publicly.

This step-by-step guide is relevant for all elections and will help you secure a meeting with candidates, give you tips on preparing for the meeting, plus guidance on what to look out for during the meeting and how to follow up.

Step 1: Asking candidates to meet

In line with political impartiality guidance and to make your campaign as effective as possible, we strongly recommend contacting candidates from all the major parties to request a meeting (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green party candidates in England, plus Plaid Cymru in Wales).

If you're unsure of who your candidates are, try a quick search on the internet using keywords like "election candidate" and the name of your area. The results should lead you to the contact details you require.

Step 2: Prepare

It’s a good idea for your group to meet (virtually) a few days before the meeting to prepare, agree your agenda and decide who'll say what. Spend a bit of time researching the candidate online to understand more about who they are and what they stand for, and think through how you might tailor the conversation to the candidate's strengths and interests.

As a start, make sure you find out:

  • their political party
  • their political career
  • whether they made a speech declaring their candidacy
  • statements of commitments they've already made on the climate emergency and/ or regional recovery from COVID-19.

Get familiar with the relevant Climate Action Plan. We've created plans for:

Climate Action Plans present a low-carbon vision for your area, point to evidence of the need for change and, crucially, the practical actions needed to protect people and planet and help the COVID-19 recovery. We recommend picking 2 or 3 priorities that you think are of most importance to your group and the region, and are likely to resonate with the candidate. If you've already established contact with the candidate, share the plan ahead of the meeting.

Remember, you don't need to be an expert on a subject to speak to electoral candidates about it – your role is to raise issues you care about and ask them to commit to prioritising these.

If this is an online call, make sure to practice using the technology ahead of time, including testing your microphone and webcam. Have a look at our guidance for setting up an online meeting on Zoom for more information.

Step 3: The meeting

Ahead of the meeting you should assign roles to those attending. For an online meeting, this might be someone to keep an eye on the chat field, a timekeeper, someone to take notes, and a tech tsar to trouble-shoot any problems.

  • Clear introductions. In an online meeting, make sure your screen name includes your name and the group you represent. Be careful not to get drawn into lengthy introductions, as you won't have much time.
  • Keep conversations on track. Candidates may not always answer the questions you ask of them and may use a number of diversion techniques such as talking a lot, shifting the theme of the conversation or otherwise talking about something they or their party are doing but that doesn’t answer the question. Be bold and prepared to use conversation turners like "sorry, but can I just bring you back to the question..." or "that sounds great, but can you tell us specifically..."
  • Stick to your ask(s). Similar to the above, make sure your conversation stays focused on your asks and don’t leave the meeting without having got the answers you want. At the same time, if it becomes evident that the candidate is not going to agree to your asks or perhaps even has an alternative that they are willing to commit to, then be prepared to think on your feet and change track towards a plan B.
  • Take a photo. At the end of your meeting, take a screenshot (with videos on) of you all with the candidate. You can use this for press and social media work. Send the photo to the candidate and ask them to share on their social media channels – see guidance below. If the candidate is supportive, you may even want to have a pre-prepared placard or paper handy to write up an impromptu slogan that the candidate holds up.
  • Thank you. Thank the candidate for their time, and re-state the commitment they have made together with any follow-up actions.

Keep an eye on the time. Ten minutes is a normal amount of time given to these kinds of meetings, so you’ll need to be careful not to get caught up in distracting conversations that are not central to your asks. Get quickly to your point and your central ask, keep it simple and don’t try to cover too much ground.

Step 4: Follow up

After the meeting, email the candidate to thank them for their time, re-state what they committed to during the meeting, and attach any further information they might find useful including a link to the relevant Climate Action Plan.

We also recommend asking them to commit to attending a hustings. Even if you don’t have the date and logistical details sorted yet, it's helpful to get a commitment in principle.

Post the photo on your social media platforms using the hashtag #TakeClimateAction and tag the candidate so they can see it too, and hopefully reshare!

Draft a press release about the meeting, including a quote about any noteworthy commitments the candidate has made. And finally, email [email protected] to let us know how it went.

What next?

If you have the candidate's support...

Some candidates will be supportive of your asks and others will be resistant to making commitments to prioritise climate action.

You may meet a candidate who is either very publicly already on side, or who you’ve spoken with before and you know agrees with our demands. If that’s the case, this is an opportunity to push them further. As well as asking them to make sure their manifesto commits to making the local area as climate- and nature-friendly as possible, you can ask them to:

  • Publicly support or share some of our asks on their social media accounts.
  • Commit to attending a hustings to debate the issues with other candidates.
  • Sign a pledge committing to prioritising climate action.

If the candidate is not on board...

Don't give up hope! Remember, meeting one-to-one with candidates is only one route to creating change – you can also take other actions in the lead up to the elections, like holding a hustings or engaging local media with your campaign.

If you need additional support, please get in touch with your regional contact at Friends of the Earth – they'll be able to help advise on next steps and approach. Alternatively email [email protected]

Don’t forget you can also apply to the Climate Action fund if you need financial support for activities around the elections.