Agile advocacy: view from the coal face / by Kate Hammer

Jed and I are creating content based on rolling discussions at a senior level. Silks (the highest level of barrister) are reading it as we go, and providing detailed feedback. On Saturday night, I had a 45-min Skype with a British citizen who works inside the European Commission. He gave a wider lens on the Parliamentary process and reassured me that everyone in the negotiations in Europe knows about the peculiarities of the British constitution. These conversations have come about because of the way I’ve been active on Twitter since the Referendum Results were announced. Twitter is such a strange — for me, rather wonderful — place to meet strangers and have genuine conversations. 

Feedback from Peers

Lots of you will have received auto-responses from the emails you sent after the Mail Merge on Monday, but from each party (Liberal Democrat, Labour and Crossbench) we received detailed replies from Peers that we’ve used to shape the strategy. We also receive detailed written feedback from lawyers we can’t name, who are working with us to be helpful in a crisis. These lawyers and law professors are helping us see the polarised views, and how we can provide a common sense approach that wrestles them into a logical plan for practical action. 

Working in Real-Time

We’re working in real-time. The email we were able to send Mon 20 Feb 2017 was based on a legal opinion called The Three Knights was only released on 17 Feb 2017.   The House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution Report on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill appeared quietly on 23 Feb, 2017 - but we’ve grabbed it and used it hone our point. On Friday, the House of Lords released the Marshalled List of Amendments Tabled for Committee: we didn't pick up on it until Sunday evening late.... but here we are, Monday by 6pm, and we have compelling single-page table analysing each Tabled Amendment according to the key criteria Jed and I defined in our first week of collaboration. 

The document we’re building makes for compelling reading. We know this because incredibly busy Silks are taking personal time at weekends and late into the evening to provide detailed feedback on multiple drafts. It’s surprising, humbling and exciting to be creating these exchanges. 

But our document isn’t perfect, how could it be? One of the lawyers missed something from the afternoon version on Saturday - I think that was version 17 and we are now adding an amendments table on the government website last night, to Version 24 .  So it’s great for us when people respond, ask questions or show they haven't understood so we can help.  

Learning, and continuously improving

And feedback is two-way. Throughout the drafting process, we've been blessed with a critical reader (friend and lawyer) who pushed us at every step. Tonight, a 4-page PDF was good enough that she was happy sending it to the personal email of one of the most active Lords, sponsoring Amendments in all our key areas.  This is what we mean by laser approach: 

  • Focused in message
  • Focused in delivery

The rebels in the Commons were scared. They were at odds with the Whips and effectively cut off from the state machinery that should have been available.  Everything we do is detailed and based on evidence and a bit of gut feeling because we are shaping the future. 

What we're asking is not blind faith but absolute faith in the system we've adopted and the integrity of the Lords for us to point them to a way to break a wholly inappropriate party-only approach to a national crisis issue.  In a sense, we’re being the Shadow Cross-Party Opposition. 

-- Jed and Kate