Election campaigns, local as well as national, present a unique opportunity for local Speakers’ Corner Committees – and/or other local groups – to help engage local people in the debates which will shape the election’s outcome.
The People’s Hustings initiative, successfully piloted during the 2010 general election and repeated with equal success in 2015, is designed to help revitalise the receding tradition of face-to-face political engagement which, in providing a platform for candidates, also renders them accountable to the voters. But this proposal goes an important step further by enabling the public rather than the politicians to set the agenda.
The note below provides an account of the Hustings which took place during the 2010 election. Equally successful events took place during the 2015 campaign in Lichfield, Nottingham, Croydon and Reading (and brief illustrated reports appear on those pages).
If you are organising an event or thinking of doing so, the People’s Hustings Briefing Note 2015 may provide useful advice about how to plan for one.
Four of SCT’s local projects (in Bristol, Lichfield, Lincoln and Nottingham) organised People’s Hustings during the short campaign of the 2010 general election. At each, a range of voluntary groups were invited to set out their priorities for the next government; members of the public were encouraged to express their views and the party candidates were asked to respond spontaneously to what they had heard. A broader debate then followed.
Taking place at lunchtime at the cities’ respective Speakers’ Corners, all in busy city centre locations, the Hustings were attended by the candidates of all the major parties, drew large crowds and covered a wide range of issues and policy areas.
In Lincoln, voluntary groups introduced topics including debt, environmental protection, homelessness, overseas aid, addiction and LGBT rights.
In Bristol they featured the rights of ethnic minorities, the burden of tuition fees, the needs of families in poverty, lack of public influence on decision-taking and barriers to employment.
The Hustings were all highly successful. The debate was in all cases enthusiastic and good-natured and both public and politicians engaged so enthusiastically that the event overran in Lincoln by 30 minutes and in Bristol by an hour.
The format can be varied as necessary but the following arrangements worked very well in both 2010 and 2015.
In brief, the local Speakers’ Corner Committee will coordinate a 60 minute event at its Speakers’ Corner (or elsewhere if preferred) to which candidates from the three main parties (or more depending on local circumstances) will be invited and about which all candidates should be notified.
A range of voluntary groups will be offered the opportunity to set out their agendas for the next government and members of the public will also be given a chance to voice their opinions before the candidates are asked to respond to what they have heard.
Each voluntary group will have 3-5 minutes (depending on how many are involved) in which to state its case; members of the public will then be invited to add their own brief (60 seconds) comments; the candidates will be allowed 5-7 minutes each, depending on how many voluntary organisations and candidates are participating.
The politicians will be asked to limit their responses to points made by the public and to avoid criticising each other’s contributions, policies or records. The voluntary organisations will be allowed to make brief comments in response and the debate will then be opened up so that the public can question the candidates as well as introducing their own views and ideas.
Ideally, each event should feature between four and six voluntary, community or interest groups representing a range of issues. They might include young people, pensioners, businesses, environmentalists, trade unionists, campaigners against poverty or discrimination or for civil liberties, animal rights or overseas aid, community, faith or ethnic groups, health or education campaigns.
Committees may prefer to select and contact groups which they feel might wish to contribute. Alternatively, they may circulate local organisations and then select those which they believe will have most to offer the event.