Linda Butcher: A campaign that is won isn't necessarily over

If there's an issue you feel strongly about, you should never take your eye off the ball, writes our columnist

Linda Butcher
Linda Butcher

Campaigning can feel like painting the Forth Bridge – once you get to the end, it's time to go back and start all over again.

What might actually happen when you win your campaign? Some of us, quite reasonably, might wish to put our feet up, enjoy the moment and get some rest. Others might move on to another issue or have one or more already on the go. But the basic answer is this: don't stop campaigning on your issue, even after you think you have won.

Jonathan Ellis, head of policy, research and advocacy at the British Red Cross, really did write the book on what to do when you win your campaign (Campaigning for Success, NCVO, 2007). As one of our trainers, he encourages campaigners to think ahead to that day you win, even if it is just to consider what you might do.

There are good reasons for this. A campaign win does not mean opposition has gone away or that those in charge even know what to do next. Depending on who your target was, their response to your win might be to ignore it or to regroup and fight back. If your campaign involved government policy change, you might be co-opted to help implement the win - and ensure it isn't changed beyond recognition by amendments. Others might wait quietly for their moment to overturn your success and clear out unwanted commitments.

This can apply even if your campaign issue is firmly in the public eye. Stonewall's director of campaigns, Sam Dick, wrote in a website article about the charity's lobbying efforts: "The question posed to us most frequently since equal marriage was secured is: what next? We need to remain ever-vigilant about attempts from those who remain opposed to LGB equality to roll back the progress we've made, clause by clause, bill by bill."

Occasionally, after a campaign win, changes are needed and you campaign for them. The Freedom of Information Act received royal assent in 2000. But the Campaign for FOI continues to advise the public about their rights and to defend the act, which has been under repeated attack.

SMK award winner Margaret McGuckin and her campaign group Savia have lobbied for justice for victims of historic institutional abuse and succeeded in getting the Northern Ireland Executive to set up an inquiry. But the work didn't stop there. First, Margaret followed the inquiry process every step of the way to ensure politicians delivered on their promise. Now Savia campaigns to ensure the government meets the needs of the survivors, many of whom are in their 70s or 80s. Margaret is clear: "We are not going away and we are not going to give up our fight for justice."

Win or lose, if there's an issue you feel strongly about, you should never take your eye off the ball.

Linda Butcher is chief executive of the Sheila McKechnie Foundation

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