Three things we’ve learnt – and one thing we haven’t – by trying to create one list of election hustings

I’ve been working with the good folks at Democracy Club, and particularly James Baster of Open Tech Calendar, to crowdsource a list of hustings events for the general election. Here’s what we’ve found so far…

1. There just aren’t that many hustings events. We’ve been surprised, candidates have been surprised: there just aren’t that many opportunities for voters to go meet and ask questions of their candidates. There are some local action groups campaigning on certain issues, and 38 Degrees have started organising some events, but we’re at around 300 events listed….for 650 constituencies.

2. Top organisers so far are church groups and the Federation of Small Businesses. It appears that a large majority of events are organised by small business groups or churches – and if they’re not organising, churches are hosting. These folks have obviously been arranging hustings for decades and are still the most active at putting on events. This might give them a great deal more say in their next MP’s work than the other community groups or interest groups who aren’t doing it.

3. The word hustings is pretty old-school. It actually refers to the soapbox-style platform that was knocked up for candidates to stand on. According to Wikipedia, it’s still in regular use in universities, but not much elsewhere. In Australia and the USA, they use the words ‘election forum’ or ‘candidate forum’. The UK should possibly follow suit – the most popular alternative term is probably ‘Question Time’. Could the BBC have taken a lead in organising a Question Time in every constituency? Or at least providing the toolkit and offering local journalists and presenters to chair?

Z. One thing we haven’t learned is whether people actually want to take part in these events. People talk about politicians being distant and weird – but here’s an opportunity to go along and meet them, and find out for yourself. But perhaps we can do better. Perhaps we can use digital to disrupt hustings! At hustings.org.uk, Simon Gray has developed a place where you could have an always-on hustings, so far more people get to take part. Here we’ve been discussing how to triage questions to candidates – and asking how that could be done more democratically – helping the questions that most people want answered rise to the top of candidates’ inboxes. Ideas welcome!

 Photo credit: CC-BY-ND John McCarthy

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