Blog post by Lauren Davies, Campaigns and Media Coordinator
The political party conferences are really important dates in the calendar for Prostate Cancer UK, especially our Campaigns team. It’s a huge opportunity to push prostate cancer up the agenda with decision makers and tell them about the issues men are facing.
We’ve recently heard from Sophie Lutter about her conference experience this year and the vital role our volunteers play in building relationships with politicians. Our guest blogger this week, Campaigns and Media Coordinator, Lauren Davies is based in our Glasgow office. She’s been a regular at Scottish party conferences over the last few years, but recently went to her first UK conference (albeit once taking place in Scotland!). Here she tells us how different a challenge it was.
Along with colleagues from across various departments, and some truly excellent volunteers, I attended this year’s Lib Dem conference in Glasgow.
For me it was really interesting to see the differences between the UK and Scottish party conferences, and to note the additional challenges that arise from the different scale and the types of attendees at the UK conferences.
Surprisingly the size of venue isn’t vastly different as there are still large numbers of exhibitors at Scottish conferences, and there tend to be many more charities and organisations there. But there is a big difference in terms of numbers of politicians.
To give you an idea, the UK parliament has 650 MPs compared to the Scottish Parliament’s 129 MSPs. The majority of politicians in Westminster are split across the three main parties whose conferences our Campaigns team would attend – Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem. But in Holyrood politicians are divided into four main parties - the Scottish National Party, Scottish Labour, Scottish Conservatives and Unionists, and the Scottish Liberal Democrats. This means that each conference is smaller and therefore our Campaigns team in Scotland have a smaller target audience to focus on.
A clear upside of this is that we can pay more attention to detail when preparing. We can nail down what we want to talk to them about before we go and have much more detailed notes on previous involvement with specific politicians. And we can generally recognise all of them as we’ve met them numerous times! You just can’t do that at bigger UK conferences.
UK conferences are attended by politicians and delegates from all four nations of the UK... As a result, it's much harder to ensure we are saying the right thing to the right people
We can also be sure that the campaign messages we're trying to get across about Scotland are fine for the vast majority of politicians and delegates who are there. However, UK conferences are attended by politicians and delegates from all four nations of the UK - so our usual approach of keeping an eye out for MSPs does not quite work. There are MPs, Members of the House of Lords, Councillors, AMs, MLAs and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates to meet and influence as well!
As a result, it's much harder to ensure we are saying the right thing to the right people. Our messages need to be tailored to suit whichever of the four nations (and four separate health care systems) we're targeting. For example, there would be little sense in speaking to English, Welsh, or Northern Irish MPs about the Scottish Medicines Consortium (the body that recommends which new drugs should be made available on NHS Scotland). Or to MSPs about Be Clear on Cancer (an awareness campaign led by Public Health England). I definitely had to do more swotting up on all of our messaging than usual!
It is a challenge, but the evidence suggests that we are increasingly up to this challenge. Prostate Cancer UK has had great success at the Scottish conferences over the years. We've secured support and follow-up actions from the First Minister, the Deputy First Minister, the Health Secretary and Shadow Health Ministers for our key campaigns.
And at UK party conferences we've won the support of the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and key Government Ministers and shadows from all parliaments and assemblies too. Proof that we are increasingly getting this right.
We know our stand and messaging this year hit the back of the net with Lib Dem delegates as we won the award for Best Charitable Stand. And we won the same at the Labour conference the week before. So our style as well as our substance was clearly recognised.
From attending the Lib Dem conference, and hearing from colleagues who attended the Conservative and Labour ones, it's clear it has been worthwhile in helping us engage with politicians and other organisations. An impressive number of politicians signed up for Men United. And in doing so they pledged to help with follow-up work for our latest campaigns on inequalities for men with prostate cancer.
We have the photographic evidence so they can’t back out now!