Why I won’t be organising hustings
I will not be organising hustings for the General or Local Elections in 2015 through any of the groups I’m involved with. This doesn’t mean that they won’t happen, just that I won’t be putting any effort in to organising them. Here’s why:
First of all, there’s the rather onerous regulations, including the requirement to invite the far right wherever they stand. Hustings, if organised as required by law, are therefore an affront to no-platform policy. They also open up a can of worms with regards to funding regulations, especially under the recently implemented Gagging Law. In effect, you can’t use them to privilege any one candidate over another.
Secondly, they’re of dubious strategic merit to the sort of groups I’m talking about. For context, local campaign groups with a specific, if not necessarily narrow, policy interest. I don’t doubt that a well-made intervention at a city-wide public hustings might have its benefits. What I would question is the merit of trying to rally one’s own supporters to show up to an event with a ‘panel’ of speakers that are not of one’s choosing.
The turnout isn’t likely to be significant, given that a chunk of the support base probably already know how they’ll vote and see little use in the ‘lobbying’ aspect, and that in turn, candidates aren’t likely to see the tabled issues as significant, given the lack of visible support for them. Better to ask a question in front of a neutral audience that gets the issue some public airing, even if the candidates are useless in their answers.
Thirdly, the debate itself is usually quite meaningless. I say this for a number of reasons. Everyone on the stage is trying to twist their views to gather support from a very slim section of the public. Either the whole thing ends up off-topic or in narrowly defined specifics, sometimes both, or just name calling. Everyone starts with differing criteria and everyone ends up thinking they ‘won’, whatever that means in modern politics. Candidates who are unlikely to win make sweeping, surface-level statements, whilst those higher in the polls feel the need to give ‘fully costed’ policy details. Throw in a Monster Raving Loony Party candidate, and the whole thing leans towards the surrealist.
If you’re lucky, you get candidates attempting to split hairs on policy points of some meaning. But that only means that they’re fighting over a very narrow collection of voters – hardly building any sense of unity. More likely, candidates take pot-shots at the incumbent in a way that instrumentalises the issues rather than tackles them as matters of grave concern. Local bugbears get an airing to no useful end. In the worst case scenario, the presence of a candidate’s supporters, or even the candidates themselves, present a risk to the well-being of those involved in the campaign. The whole format tends to lend itself to bad behaviour from just about any candidate, no matter how admirable the policies.
I’m sure there will be those with an enthusiasm for organising such events. I shan’t necessarily try to stop them, and if I need to give people general information, training or access to resources, I’ll happily hand them on. But with little to show for previous attempts at hustings organising, I’m sitting this one out. There are better uses for my time, and those may or may not include going to bigger hustings to ask questions and raise debate.