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How to organise election hustings

If you are thinking about holding a hustings event, you will need to follow some rules

“Some of the liveliest debates that I take part in at election time are organised by the local churches. It is important for Christians to get informed and get involved at election time, and this is an excellent way for churches to reach out to people in their local area at the same time.”

Sir Steve Webb, former MP, Northavon

Summary

If you are thinking about holding a hustings event, you will need to follow some rules. We’ve provided some key information that aims to help you understand these rules and provide helpful information to plan a hustings. You can read the Electoral Commission’s full hustings guide here.

What is a hustings?

A hustings is an open meeting usually held in the run up to an election. It’s a chance for voters to meet the candidates who want to represent them in local or national politics such as parliament. The candidates generally answer a series of questions that give people the chance to hear their views on a range of issues that will affect them and their community.

Why should churches hold hustings?

Often at the heart of the community, churches are in a prime position to host a hustings. Candidates are grateful for the opportunity to address their would-be constituents. And voters are keen to hear directly from their candidates.

Holding a hustings enables churches to help voters in their community engage effectively with their political representatives and address the sense of disconnect many voters feel with the political process.

Promoting the hustings

Hustings are a great opportunity to demonstrate church unity, so we would encourage you to organise your event in conjunction with other local churches. If your constituency covers a large geographical area it might be a good idea to collaborate with churches in other areas to organise a few hustings.

  • Send a press release to your local papers, TV and radio stations to tell them about your event. Only do this once the details are finalised.
  • Make use of community notice boards, church websites and social media.
  • After the event send a follow up press release (even if local media don’t attend) along with key quotes from the candidates and photos.

Preparing for the hustings

The formal part of the election campaign is fairly short, running from the dissolution of Parliament on 6 November until election day on 12 December. The deadline for candidate nominations is 14 November and the final list of candidates standing may not be known until then.

Send a formal invitation to the candidates including date, time, and venue. Even if the final list of candidates is not confirmed, you are likely to know who many of them will be. More information on inviting candidates is on the final page of this document.

Venue

  • Choose a location that is central to the constituency and easy to find.
  • Make sure it’s big enough to comfortably accommodate your expected audience, but doesn’t look uninviting if sparsely filled.
  • Confirm that it has disability access.

Set-up

  • Seat the candidates and the host on a raised platform if possible.
  • Make sure the room is well lit and appropriately heated.
  • Supply microphones for each candidate as well as a couple of roving microphones for questions from the audience.

Host

  • An ideal host would have experience chairing discussions, ability to think on their feet, control a lively crowd and treat audience members and candidates firmly but fairly. A local TV presenter or similar notable local figure might be willing to chair.
  • Choose someone familiar with key political issues so they can push for clarification and challenge the answers given if they think they are inaccurate or dishonest.

Volunteers

  • A few stewards to greet guests and direct them to their seats, serve refreshments and hand out roving microphones.
  • An operator for the sound system.

Security

  • Sometimes specific groups may try to disrupt the meeting to make their voice heard. Therefore you may choose to have some extra stewards for security.
  • Notify your local police station ahead of your hustings so that they are aware that the event is taking place.

Running the hustings

The format of the evening is entirely up to you. The hustings needs to be long enough to cover a range of topics, but short enough to ensure that the audience’s attention is maintained. Between one and a half and two hours would be a suitable length.

Planning the event

  • Create a running order for the event so you know roughly how much time each section will take so that you don’t run over time.
  • Let the candidates know the format of the evening, for example whether or not they will need an opening statement as well as who will be hosting the event.

Opening the event

  • Have the organiser or local church leader welcome the audience, open in prayer, briefly reflect on the importance of voting and introduce the host. They can also thank the host and candidates at the end and close in prayer.
  • Have the host explain the format of the evening and the rules for asking questions.

Introductory statements by the candidates

  • This can be helpful for people who aren’t familiar with the candidates. However, they can take up quite a lot of time so if you decide to include this make sure candidates are given a tight time frame.

Questions and answers

There are a range of possible approaches to organising the topics of discussion for hustings, here are four broad categories:

  1. The questions could be determined before the event, perhaps by the church leaders and others who are organising it.
  2. The audience could be asked to submit questions as they arrive with a team ready to sort through and agree topics for discussion.
  3. Questions can be taken through twitter (which will require a dedicated hashtag which is being monitored) or a dedicated mobile phone which people text. This enables the organising team to both structure the topics and choose the most useful questions.
  4. Questions can be taken from the floor without prior consideration.

We would recommend having people submit questions when they arrive so that at the beginning of the event so a basic structure can be given around the issues people want covered. Supplementary questions can then either be taken from audience members raising their hands or through further written questions selected and passed to the chair.

After the event

  • Write to the candidates thanking them for taking part in the hustings.
  • Send a press release with photos to your local media.
  • Report on the event on websites and social media, in church newsletters, etc

After the election, be proactive in developing and maintaining a relationship with your MP.

Legal information

Most churches are charities and must follow the law set out in the Charities Act 2011. During the election period this means they are subject to rules about spending. You can find out more about the rules you must following during the election period here. The information on this page provides some introductory information for you to get started and doesn’t constitute legal advice.

NOTE: Charities must not support or oppose a specific political party. This doesn’t preventthem from supporting or opposing specific policies.

The simplest way to make sure your hustings isn’t affected by the rules on election spending is to invite all the relevant candidates. However, this may not always be possible. For example, if there are too many candidates. If you decide not to invite all candidates, you will need to be able to show you aren’t promoting or opposing a particular candidate more than others.

Good practice recommendations:

  • Give objective reasons why you haven’t invited particular candidates. Be prepared to explain your reasons to candidates who you haven’t invited.
    • Objective reasons may include local prominence, the number of elected representatives at local level or recent election results in the area.
    • They do not include subjective reasons such as your views of the policies of a candidate or their party.
  • Make sure the candidates you invite represent a reasonable variety of views, from different parts of the political spectrum.
  • Be transparent in your publicity for the meeting, about who is arranging and funding the event and the reasons you are holding it.
  • Allow each candidate attending a fair chance to answer questions, and where appropriate, a reasonable opportunity to respond to points made against them by other candidates.
  • Inform the audience at the hustings of candidates standing who were not invited or were not able to attend.

If you do not invite all the candidates and are not able to provide objective reasons for the selection, then the hustings could be categorised as a selective hustings’. This is problematic for churches and charities because it is then counted as an electoral contribution to the parties that did attend, which is not allowed for charitable organisations. 

You can view the full hustings guide from the Electoral Commission here.

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