UK hustings guide

What is a ‘hustings’?

A ‘hustings’ is defined by the Electoral Commission as “a meeting where election candidates or parties debate policies and answer questions from the audience”. Hustings take place in order to provide voters with an opportunity to hear the views of candidates and the policies of their parties in the run up to an Election, and to meet the candidates afterwards to make personal contact.

Who can run a hustings?

Potentially, anyone! Hustings are usually held by community organisations who are unaffiliated to political parties.

Why organise a hustings?

Hustings events can be a great opportunity to find out where candidates stand on the issues you care about. Not all candidates are great at answering correspondence from individual potential constituents, but when they are asked a question as part of a hustings, not only must they be seen to answer, but any evasiveness or refusal to answer will be duly noted by the attendees. Even silence on an issue can tell voters something about a candidate.

Are there any legal implications to hustings?

Not normally, however, The Electoral Commission recognises two sorts of hustings: ‘non-selective hustings’, and ‘selective hustings’. ‘non-selective hustings’ involve inviting all candidates, and selective hustings involve inviting only some candidates.

If a Hustings is selective, the organising body can face spending limitations. If it is non-selective (as most are) then it is not subject to any limitations at all. No registration as a ‘non-party campaigner’ is necessary for a simple non-selective hustings.

For more info, see the Electoral Commission:

http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/169480/sp-hustings-npc-ukpge.pdf

How do I run a hustings?

Running a hustings is as simple as setting a date, booking a venue such as a Church Hall, inviting the candidates as guests, and then publicising the event once the candidates have confirmed.

Once an election campaign has begun, given the short length of such campaigns, it is necessary to organise hustings as soon as possible if you want the event to go ahead.

In order to run a hustings, then, here are the necessary steps:

  • Set a sensible date: Note whether other people have organised hustings in your area already, so as not to organise in a way that will clash with what is already arranged.
  • Check venue suitability and availability. Find a venue that has the appropriate features:
    • Parking spaces and size (for the number of people expected or hoped to attend)
    • Acoustics and sound facilities so that the audience can hear the candidates
    • A raised platform on which the candidates might be seated
    • Disability access

You may wish to consider cheapness or one to which you have easy access. Church Halls are commonly used for hustings, as they are often good spaces in which such an occasion can take place. Check that your desired venue is available on the date you wish to use it for the hustings.

  • Propose the date and hustings: Once the above is done, send an e-mail (see Appendix 1 for contact information and a template email) to your local candidates (their email addresses can be found on campaign websites or local party websites). If these are unavailable, ask Right to Life UK for help: info@righttolife.org.uk
  • Book the venue: Once the candidates of the three main parties have confirmed (at least), book the venue you wish to use.
  • Secure a moderator: A moderator or ‘chair’ will be needed for the meeting to ensure order is maintained. Someone who is competent at public speaking and organisation is a must. Additionally, securing someone who has experience at chairing public meetings, and is well known in the local community, is preferable. Finally, it is beneficial to have the chairperson do at least some basic background search on each candidate, as well as be informed on the different party’s manifestos.
  • Promote the event in local media and online: You will want to ensure people attend the hustings so you will want to: 
    • 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 such as Facebook and Twitter.
    • Engage with local radio stations 
    • Finally, it is a good idea to send a press release after the event, even if local media don’t attend, along with key quotes from the candidates and photos.
  • Secure necessary equipment and volunteers: You will need a long table for the candidates to sit at, along with the moderator. You will also need at least 2-3 microphones (one for candidates to the right of the moderator, one for the candidates to the left of the moderator, and one later for the audience). If the venue you will use does not have microphones and a sound system to go with it, you will need to secure these yourself.

    You will also need volunteers for the following purposes:
    • Stewards to greet guests and direct them to their seats, and hand out roving microphones.
    • Someone with sufficient technical expertise that they can operate the sound system.
    • Security stewards, who may be able to remove anyone who chooses to attend and becomes disruptive (to support this, it may be a good idea to alert your local police station that you are organising this event).
    • To serve any refreshments you may plan to organise.
  • Organise an order of business for the hustings event: It is important that the event has an order of business. For a 2 hour hustings (say, from 19:00-21:00), we recommend:
  • Introduction from Moderator (5 minutes) – include rules for proceedings, IE 
    1. You will want to vary the order in which candidates answer questions.
    2. Also consider whether all questions will come from the audience or if there will be pre-prepared questions from the chair, etc.
    3. Address expected audience etiquette
  • Speeches from Candidates introducing themselves and their campaigns (7 minutes each)
  • Set Questions on Major Issues such as Education, Health, Crime, Taxes, etc. (20 minutes). The following are sample questions to determine where candidates stand on life issues: 
    1. What policies would each you introduce to end pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workplace, and why do you feel this is the most effective policy? 
    2. Would you support parliamentary efforts to explicitly outlaw sex-selective abortion? 
    3. Do you support lowering the abortion time-limit due to the technical and medical advancements which have allowed babies born before the current abortion time-limit to survive?
  • Audience Questions (1 hour). A good way to do this is to have audience members fill out a card, with their name and question, and submit these to the Chair. The chair will then read all questions from the cards submitted.
  • Optional: Closing statements for candidates (90 seconds each)
  • Organise a script for the moderator to follow: To make things easier for your moderator, give them short biographical descriptions of the candidates that they can use in their introduction, as well as rules to state to the audience that they should follow (e.g. no audience speeches, no interrupting candidate answers, etc.), and any health and safety announcements (e.g. location of fire exits).
  • Be sure to thank candidates and all who helped organise and were in attendance at the event!
  • Hold the event: Once all the above is done, it is just a matter of turning up on the night, making sure all the practical details are sorted out: sufficient chairs laid out, the sound system working, the candidates’ table ready, etc. Then, enjoy the event!

If you have any questions or need any assistance, feel free to contact Right to Life UK at info@righttolife.org.uk

Appendix 1 – Template email to send to candidates 

Please note this is just an example and should be personalised to reflect your individual context. It is advisable to post or email this invitation before following it up with a telephone call sometime later to ensure your request has been received. 

TEMPLATE:

Dear [candidate name],

I am writing to invite you to a Parliamentary Hustings on [DATE/TIME],  at [ADDRESS], organised by [NAME OF ORGANISATION].

[NAME OF ORGANISATION] is [add any relevant information on the organisation, eg, MEMBERSHIP – YEARS OF EXISTENCE, PROGRAMMES, etc.] 

We plan to promote our hustings to our contacts. Please let us know if you have any questions. We look forward to hearing from you. 

Sincerely,