On Saturday, my journey with the #imapiece campaign stepped up a notch as I met with my MP, Mark Lancaster, and gave him a (jigsaw) piece of my mind.
Over the months since the Indonesia trip, it’s been amazing to see the #imapiece project grow and to see the trickle of textile jigsaw pieces from around the world turn into a steady stream. I was thrilled to see this recent photo by Sarah Corbett of 376 jigsaw pieces arranged on her floor!
I had the pleasure of working with a couple of groups from Milton Keynes Women and Work in making jigsaw pieces and when the time came to arrange a meeting with my MP, to give him my piece, it was great to have a small posse of people available to tag along.
I’ll level with you, I really struggle with the Conservative Party here in the UK. They are unashamedly pro-business and while this may have inspired innovation and growth in the past, it seems that these days the power has gone to their heads, and current policy seems intent on destroying public services, punishing those who don’t have jobs and protecting the financial assets of the super rich. But I digress.
Mark Lancaster is one of the Conservative Party’s key players these days, with a keen interest in International Development, so it’s fair to say that I was feeling some internal conflict in the days leading up to meeting with him. My aspiration for the meeting was to teach him some cross stitch, give him the jigsaw piece and ask him to ensure that the Government committed to spending 0.7% of National Income on International Aid. Having visited Indonesia and seen how Save the Children use this aid money to make a profound difference in rural communities, I was steadfast in my determination to get his commitment, while also being quite concerned that he’d use party political spin to get around any concrete commitments.
As the date of the meeting drew closer, I became increasingly wracked with thoughts about what could happen. Would I be able to keep calm and not go into one about the Tory party? Would I have the nerve to look him in the eye and ask for a commitment? Would I even remember what I was talking about?
I got some wise words from one of the Save the Children team who reminded me that MPs are public servants, and as such they have a duty to respond to our enquiries and requests. I took this as a personal mantra and it helped me feel confident in what I was about to do. Another thing that helped was that I’d managed to get Mark Lancaster to agree to a photo of him doing some cross stitch, so I knew I was on a level playing field!
The day of the meeting arrived, and I met with the Women and Work posse at MK Gallery’s project space. We’d got a nice collection of jigsaw pieces on display and I’d brought along some stitchy kit as well as my own jigsaw piece. We waited for him to arrive and I did a bit of pacing around, repeating the mantra “he works for me, he works for me”.
Then he arrived and it all went rather well. With only an hour to play with, we spent a fair bit of time posing for photographs, but I managed to get him stitching and used that time to talk over the International Aid question. Mark Lancaster knew his stuff in this issue and confirmed that the UK Govt. was committed to the 0.7%, however there was a slight philosophical change in their approach.
While they support projects that are helping communities develop on the ground, for the past couple of years there has been an idea that it’s a good idea to try and prevent de-stabilisation of areas as well, addressing the issue of poverty by stop people becoming impoverished in the first place. So the current thinking is that some of the money might get used on helping countries protect themselves from things going wrong in the first place. Mark said that International Aid money was ringfenced for “tackling poverty” and that the money wouldn’t get spent on tanks and guns. I remain unconvinced by that argument, and would much rather see all the money given to ground-level work with communities, but in the short term I’ll settle for the commitment to International Aid. Any help from the Tory Party is a blessing.
After we’d had a chat, I gave Mark his jigsaw piece and he seemed genuinely moved. I’d written a rhetorical question on the back, which he noted was quite political (to which I replied “you don’t know the half of it”) but in an effort to keep things nice, I said the piece was given with love and thanked him for the work he’d done for Milton Keynes. Mark spent a bit of time talking with the Women and Work crew and after a few more photos, we said our goodbyes.
It was an interesting experience and I’m glad I did it. Mark was a human being, was genuinely interested in the campaign and happy to talk with the people in the room. I wasn’t entirely convinced by his political responses, because they echoed the party-line too much for my comfort. I think the handmade jigsaw piece affected him more profoundly than he first expected, once he’d realised I’d spent about eight hours making it, and he did say he’d get it framed. It made for an irresistible photo opportunity and so I’m hoping one of the pics will get into the paper to further raise awareness.
The main thing I learned was that MPs are our servants and that it’s okay to ask them to do things. They may not have all the answers, and they may not give you answers you want to hear, but with something as simple as a handmade jigsaw piece, you can show them that you are appreciative of their efforts and would like them to continue to do the right thing for the greater good.
It’s over to you. If you’ve been making jigsaw pieces, then you might have one ready to give to your MP. Don’t be afraid at this point. Contact their office and make an appointment to see them. It doesn’t have to involve other people and the local paper, although it’s a bonus if it does. But by giving a gift to your MP, you will connect with them in ways they weren’t expecting, and you might just start a dialogue that makes a difference. I know that I can contact my MP with more confidence now, and that I can ask him to do more, without fearing the consequences. And that, my friends, is a pretty cool thing to know.