This article is from the April issue of Total Politics
What’s the most common misconception about 38 Degrees?
Probably the idea that what we do is just online, or just petitions. We do a lot of offline stuff. I’m frequently at events where members get together in the flesh, as it were. We had somewhere in the region of 150-200 in-person deliveries of NHS petitions to MPs’ offices all around the country.
What’s your reception like from MPs?
Most MPs are pretty pleased to have people getting in touch. Chatting with an MP the other day, he said: “I like getting 38 Degrees emails because it’s not the usual suspects getting in touch with us.” We reach people who haven’t been that engaged [with politics]… For every campaigner, if everybody loves what you’re doing then maybe you’re not doing it right. We aim to campaign on the issues our members care about.
Your members choose your campaigns, but how do they decide what you should prioritise?
It’s up to our members to decide what we do. We send out a big email, saying: “What do you think we should do? Share your ideas on Facebook, our blog…” and a few people will send us an email as well. Obviously, it’s nicer to do it in a place where people can interact. That will all get aggregated together, and we do some qualitative data analysis, from which we get a clear sense of what our members are prioritising. From there, we vote. On a number of issues we ask whether people think it’s ‘very important’, ‘quite important’ or ‘not important’. We take our lead from that.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
Even for people who are political, politics can be a bit of a dirty secret. One of the good things about doing stuff online, on Facebook and email is that it puts politics back into people’s lives. It’s not necessarily party politics, but “I’m worried about what the government’s planning to do with the NHS”, or “no, I don’t think I want our public forests to be flogged off, thank you very much”. People share those things, and associate with them publicly.
What campaign tool should we watch out for?
We aspire to use fairly invisible technology. We aren’t necessarily in the business of doing super-flash things. We want things our members feel comfortable using; you don’t have to be a technical genius. I’m seeing a lot of interesting innovation around simple tools, like giving people the opportunity to set up their own petitions. The other thing that’s going to be huge – although we’re still figuring out how – is mobile, giving people simple campaigning tools on their phones, which is basically like shoving it in their handbag or pocket, rather than saying, “When you’re next in front of your computer, can you do this?” SMS giving, for example, is incredibly successful.
How do you make money?
We’re funded by our members. We had some initial start-up funding, and a couple of quite large grants, but now we’re fully member-funded, partly through direct debit every month, partly through fundraisers. But membership is totally free. People give what they can when they can. And that’s fantastic.
The Zetter Townhouse
The cocktail bar at the Zetter Townhouse is all crackling fires, velvet furniture and dimmed lighting. As its website says: “It feels like the private residence of a most beloved, eccentric and indulgent aunt.”
What they drank
The Flintlock – Beefeater 24 gin, gunpowder tea tincture, sugar, dandelion and burdock bitters and Fernet-Branca. It’s small and strong – and they set the cocktail alight for added drama.
Parmesan shortbread; deep-fried anchovy olives with aioli.
To reserve a table at The Zetter Townhouse, call 020 7324 4567 or visit www.thezettertownhouse.com