Which works best, campaigning in the full glare of publicity, or working through official channels to lobby, push and get things done?
MSE’s traditional campaigning style
The perception of MoneySavingExpert.com has changed over the past few years. Even as recently as 2007, when calling the Treasury to get answers about the Northern Rock crisis, we were virtually ignored (see the Wake Up Treasury blog). Then, getting an influential politician to react on any issue was near impossible.
The closed door to official channels left two main routes for the site and I to campaign on issues we believe to be important.
- Media Attention.
The nature of our work as journalists, and my own broadcasting role, means generating publicity is something we can do well. Even just putting an article in the weekly email means it’s under millions of people’s noses, and then with my range of other outlets, it’s possible to get info into the wide spread public domain at speed – plus with the right issues the papers will often join in.
- Mass Action.
Married directly to media attention is mass action – and perhaps that’s the site’s campaigning speciality – mainstream activism – getting people to do things.
Take PPI reclaiming. Which hurts more, the smallish fines imposed on lenders by the FSA, or hundreds of thousands of people asking and getting their money back?
Together, the two are powerful weapons for change, and have had real impact. Both bank charges and council tax rebanding are stories that’ve been on the front pages of many papers, and had millions of people engaging in them.
Yet the problem with campaigning this way is while it highlights the issue, and brings resolution for those who choose to get involved, it’s often slow to bring official change – and more importantly change for those people who often need the most help and protection, and who don’t help themselves.
MSE’s new campaigning style…
Over the last year or so things have moved on: the scale and profile of the site means it’s now taken far more seriously by opinion leaders and people in positions of authority. Perhaps we’ve even become a touch institutional.
In many ways the old style campaigning has brought us to this point. The ability to generate mass action – even if of a virtual nature – is an important one.
So now I suspect we’re entering a new phase, where we can start with old style campaigning, and by correctly picking the right topics, get our foot in the door to official channels.
This week’s there’s been a prime example. You may be surprised to hear it’s not the PM’s letter on bank charges. Whilst that’s hugely important, in many ways it’s a result of our traditional campaigning; it’s not that dissimilar from past work on the childcare tax credit black hole, or Nick Clegg on debt.
The Prime Example…
Actually the more radical switch is the “Why don’t we have a right to know the rate before applications go on credit files” campaign (see my credit rating campaign blog from last week).
Let’s be honest, there’s no way this story would generate front page newspaper coverage, and there’s little organising mass action can do to this one.
In the past we’d simply not allocated any time to working on the issue (other than trying to help people avoid problems), as what it needs is political or regulatory impact.
Yet instead of a people power campaign first, we teamed up with the official watchdog Consumer Focus to lobby the industry and met with the Treasury Select Committee. It has now launched an inquiry this low profile but high importance issue, putting it firmly on the agenda.
How much of this type of thing we’ll do or be able to do in the future I’m not sure, but my fingers are crossed. Certainly Setting Off is an issue I think needs addressing at speed, as is the problem with Recurring Payments.
Yet for me having these as potential extra weapons in the arsenal should broaden the scope of financial justice issues we can look at – though where the time’ll come from to do it I’ve no clue.