How to compile a briefing for a roundtable or panel discussion

Added: 25 May 2007

As well as writing speeches or looking for facts to use in the Chamber, you may need to support your MP when she/he is asked to speak on a panel or to be a main speaker at a roundtable discussion.  The former will normally be arranged by a large organisation, perhaps a professional association.  It will probably be similar to Question Time, except that the questions normally last longer.  The latter is a common staple of Party Conference season, or may be arranged by a think tank keen on expanding on a particular issue.

What type of brief are you aiming for?

A speech style brief has a beginning, a middle and an end.  This brief needs to be broad, and not nearly as deep.  You will need to work out:

  1. What your MP is going to focus on
  2. What questions your MP will be asked
  3. What others at the event are likely to say

You will probably need two or three ideas for your MP, ten or more questions you think are likely to be asked by the audience, and a couple of ideas for each of the other speakers at the event.

What is your MP going to say?

Your MP has probably been asked to do this because of past experience and some knowledge of the subject area.  You will need to have two or even three areas to concentrate on.  For each of these you should have:

  1. Background – no more than three sentences
  2. The party line and a comment from a front bencher
  3. A recent comment from the press
  4. A recent comment from at least one independent non-political source
  5. A possible concern and a counter-argument
  6. An interesting or quirky statistic

Your MP will probably appreciate a bit more information on ten or so points which might come up.  For each of these points you should have:

  1. One sentence of background
  2. A comment from a front bencher
  3. A recent comment from the press, or from an independent non-political source

What are others at the event likely to say?

Regardless of whether this is a large roundtable or a panel discussion, your MP will face questions.  You can’t rely on these being follow-up questions to what you have briefed on, so it is important to second guess what might also be discussed.

  1. Find out who is hosting the discussion.  What have they said in the last six months?  Do they have press releases on their website, or have they been quoted in the national newspapers?  Have any other MPs or Peers mentioned the organisation in Hansard?  This will give you an idea of the direction the discussion may follow.
  2. Often an invitation will tell you who else is going to be speaking.  If it doesn’t, the organisation will normally tell you.  Try the same methods as mentioned above to see whether any of these people or the organisations they represent have any particular views.  Your MP will need at least two facts about each person or organisation, and these facts should be either backed up or have a counter-example.
  3. If your MP is not speaking with someone from one of the other parties, they may be speaking at another event with the same organisation.  It may be that this event takes place before the event your MP is attending.  If so, this is a valuable resource.  This is very common at Party Conference or with large pressure groups.

Final advice…

Your MP would find a quick sheet of bullet points useful – but staple copies of the articles, reports and various press releases to the back.  This is especially useful if your MP has a train journey before the event.

Concentrate on subjects your MP is familiar with.  It is probably best to check with your MP that you are heading in the right direction.

Ask other MPs, particularly front benchers, for advice.  The same goes for academic institutions, think tanks and pressure groups.  Use Factiva or Lexus Nexus to look for comments by members of the press – but ensure your MP agrees with what is said.

JM/May 2007