Where have all the Hustings Gone?


I was talking this morning to our Parliamentary candidates for Wavertree and Wallasey. I asked them how many community based hustings meetings they had been invited to. In the case of Wallasey it was one and in the case of Wavertree it was none!
I cast my mind back to 1979 when I stood for Wavertree and I seem to recall a hustings meeting almost every night and one night we had two. They took place across the Constituency and were put on by churches, community groups, ethnic minority groups and Hope University (although I cannot recall whether it was the University or the Students Union that had called it).
That meant that all the candidates were exposed to the scrutiny of about 1,000 local voters. A small part of the electorate but perhaps if they talked to their friends and neighbours about what they saw it might get to two or three per cent of the electorate of the Constituency.
I think hustings meetings are very important because they enable people to judge their candidate and not just their opinion of the party leaders on the telly and radio. We still have a [position whereby we vote for individuals. We need to know if they are up to the job or have just been chosen because of Party loyalty. We need to know if they can fight for our area or will; do what they are told when they get to the Big House. We need to know if there are areas that they disagree with their Party and where they might be prepared to go it alone rather than as Gilbert & Sullivan put it, “always voting at their Party’s Call and never ever thinking for themselves at all”. All that is lost when there is just an air war of carefully prepared stunts and sound bites.
It does, however, raised as many questions about civil society as it does about political parties. It isn’t, in most cases, the parties fault that there are no hustings meeting. It is the fault of the people who no longer are prepared to put the effort into doing the work required to establish and run such a meeting. Politics has become too much a spectator sport. Too often candidates get told, “we never see you except at election time”. One of my ripostes to this, partly because I am highly visible in my Ward, is, “when did you invite me?”
If elections are just about the political parties then democracy is dead. Democracy should be about the active engagement of the many and not the few. Democracy should be about debates raging in the Churches, Community Centres and Pubs and not just in a studio between the leaders. Democracy is for all of us and people who do not involve themselves in it at least on a superficial level of voting should have nothing to say when things happened that they do not like.
So well done to the Friends of Allerton Library who have invited the Church Ward Local Candidates to a Hustings. They at least are aware that there are local elections as well as the national election on May 7th. They want to ensure that a full discussions of local issues takes place because it is not the Government who will be making decisions about the services we get and the fabric of our community. It will be local councillors who can work with and for the community to effect local delivery of so many services for good or bad.
Incidentally The Friends of Allerton Library seem to be far ahead of the media in this regard. I have seen next to no mention by the media about the important local elections that will also take place on May 7th. Even the local press seem not to be giving those elections and coverage at all.
BUT there is still time to change all this. We have 3.5 weeks to go before polling day so come on you churches and community groups get stuck into the election. Play YOUR part in democracy by setting up events which expose local council and parliamentary candidates to scrutiny.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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1 Response to Where have all the Hustings Gone?

  1. Kip Crooks says:

    Just wanted you to know that we are holding a hustings at St Peter’s Woolton this Sunday (19th April) More details from our facebook page https://www.facebook.com/events/366240546896586/

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