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24 March 2011

The Importance of Hustings

In last May's edition of PQ, the article from Wales focused on the impact of church-led hustings in the run-up to the General Election. Until a few weeks ago, the political focus in Wales was on the 3 March referendum on full law-making powers for Wales. But now, with that behind us, the National Assembly elections on 5 May are looming, meriting a closer look at the role of hustings.  

What is a hustings? It originally referred to a platform from which political candidates presented their views, but now tends to get used for any event during an election campaign, such as debates or speeches where candidates are present in their constituency to set forth their policies and convictions before an audience.  

In the weeks leading up to last May's General Election, the Alliance's friends at CARE kept a tally on their website of churches throughout the UK that were holding such events, with the final number exceeding 220 - an average of one event for every three constituencies. This website was a valuable resource that caught the attention of many non-Christians and perhaps highlighted in a greater way than in previous elections the central role that the Church plays in arranging hustings. 

At present there are six confirmed hustings in Wales being organised by evangelicals, covering the Swansea West, Cardiff Central, Cardiff North, Merthyr, Torfaen and Clwyd West constituencies, which is one short of the number held by evangelical churches last May. Churches are often great meeting places for their communities and are trusted by local people. 

Of course it isn't just churches that hold hustings, with a wide range of other Third Sector organisations also arranging them, but the Christian contribution is well recognised and appreciated by political parties and candidates, who use the events to state their policies and to try to elicit votes. Some hustings are subject-specific, focusing on topics such as housing or climate change while others will cover a range of issues. There is no right or wrong template for these events, and there are in fact a range of different formats, with the chair for each event often determining the style.  

Some Christians like the fact that hustings provide an opportunity for the church to engage with their community, while others see the events as ideal for probing candidates on their attitude towards issues important to Christians. Properly conducted, they are a great opportunity for people to come together, exercising their right to assembly, and for them to grill their prospective politicians before polling day. After the election of course, voters will be stuck with their Assembly Member for four years, whether they like him or her or not!