If you’re considering holding a hustings or just want to know more, we’ve got you covered. This guide will give you organisational tips, as well as important guidance on how to stay politically impartial.
22 Nov 2019
One of the ways you can push parliamentary candidates on their position on the climate crisis is to hold a hustings focused on the environment where you live. Hustings provide the opportunity to flush out where candidates stand on key environmental issues and secure pledges from candidates while also creating the space to build relationships with your potential MP.
What is a hustings?
A hustings is a panel discussion in the run-up to an election where candidates or parties debate policies and answer questions from the audience. Usually they are held in the constituency and feature all the local candidates. Sometimes they are national hustings on a particular issue featuring party representatives.
Hustings are usually arranged by local organisations, such as community or faith groups, ahead of the election.
You aren't restricted to a particular format. You could for instance have a "Question Time" style debate where, in addition to local candidates on the panel, you might also have a speaker with expertise on the topics.
While some hustings will focus on a range of issues, we suggest you organise a hustings that has the climate crisis as its key focus. This will allow you to zoom in on the detail and ensure questions remain relevant.
Political impartiality and staying within the law
During the election period there are specific rules that non-party campaigners must adhere to. This can range from big NGOs (like Friends of the Earth) to community groups (like Climate Action groups and Friends of the Earth local groups). The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) limits certain types of spending by organisations before general elections. It was amended by the Lobbying Act, which you may have heard of, ahead of the 2015 and 2017 general elections. The Lobbying Act is what dictates what can and can’t be done during a general election.
When activity in the run-up to a general election can be reasonably regarded as intended to influence the way someone votes, it is considered regulated activity, and if you spend over a certain limit on regulated activity you have to register with the Electoral Commission. Depending on how you run your hustings, they could be considered regulated activity. The good news is that it’s pretty easy to organise an unregulated, or "non-selective" hustings, which is why Friends of the Earth will only support you to hold non-selective hustings.
A non-selective hustings isn’t only better because it is unregulated, but because it will pull in the widest audience and range of viewpoints, giving people a chance to hear from all major parties on issues they care about.
A hustings is non-selective if:
- You have invited all the candidates or parties known to be standing in the constituency, region or other electoral area (use our template letter to get started).
- You have impartial reasons for not inviting certain candidates or parties. These impartial reasons may emerge from the following considerations:
- Resources and other practicalities constraining numbers of invitees.
- Security concerns.
- Local prominence of some parties or candidates over others.
- The number of elected representatives at the local or national level.
- Recent election results in the area.
As mentioned above, you do not have to invite every candidate standing in your constituency, as in some areas this could become unmanageable. However, you should make sure you invite representatives from all parties that hold seats in Westminster. So that would be Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green party candidates, as well as Plaid Cymru if you’re in Wales and all Assembly parties if you’re in Northern Ireland.
It might be the case that not all the candidates you invite turn up or accept. That’s fine and doesn’t mean you can’t do the hustings. If this happens though, it’s a good idea to let the audience know at the beginning by simply saying that you invited a candidate from x party, but they were unable to attend/didn't accept/turned down the offer.
You’ll probably also want to do follow-up after your hustings on social media and in the press. In doing so, it’s important to remain impartial as well. The best way to do this is to avoid comparing the performance of different candidates or parties or saying who had the most support or 'won' – we can leave that up to the people who attended to decide! If you’re sharing quotes on social media or in a press release, be sure to share an even spread of quotes from different candidates and avoid endorsing any candidate positions.
As ever, if you stick to our political impartiality guidelines your work during a general election is unlikely to be classed as "regulated".
Questions to ask at your hustings
Good questions are a crucial part of any hustings, as they allow you to probe candidates’ positions and even secure commitments that you can later hold candidates to.
Below are a set of questions from our Climate Action Plan for you to ask candidates. Make sure to tailor the questions as much as possible to your local context. Our postcode tool tells you how climate friendly your community is, and the results can help tailor your questions.
- Q1: Will candidates each explain, if elected, how they would work to address the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves?
- Q2: If elected, how will candidates advocate for the important transition to renewable clean energy?
- Q3: We know dirty vehicles powered by petrol and diesel are responsible for a serious chunk of the UK’s emission and harmful air pollution. How would candidates work to support the greener transport we need in order to combat the climate crisis and clean up our air?
- Q4: Will you make the climate crisis a deal-breaker in how you vote in Parliament?
- Q5: How do you plan to support doubling UK tree cover as part of efforts to transform the way we use our land to help stop climate breakdown?
- Q6: Will you back the Women’s Institute’s & Friends of the Earth’s "Plastic Pollution Bill", which would phase out non-essential single-use plastics and commit this and future governments to preventing any further plastic pollution from this country?
Top tips to kick-start your hustings
- At some point during your hustings make sure you ask candidates if they would agree to our climate action pledge and ask if they’re OK for this information to be public. If candidates agree, take a photo with them using our printed pledge prop. Once that’s done, let us know by filling in this simple form. The pledge for candidates is: "I’ll make the climate crisis a deal-breaker in how I vote in Parliament. I’ll vote to support measures that help us rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions and build a fairer and greener society."
- While there is no perfect day or time to hold a hustings, do try and avoid clashing with other local events. You might want to consider holding it in the evening or on weekends when more people can join.
- As you can imagine, candidates will have a packed schedule during the election period so inviting and securing one or two candidates will definitely encourage others to follow suit (use our template letter to invite your candidates). In the event a candidate can’t join, ask if their campaign manager could stand in their place. If worst comes to worst you could ask them to provide a written statement to be read out.
- Why not work in collaboration? Working in alliances can show candidates that a greater level of support exists for action on climate. It may also boost the number of people you have in the room and help spread the workload. For example, if air pollution is a big issue where you live, why not connect with health groups, local teachers, faith communities and other environmental groups?
- Work to secure a venue quickly. Community centres and local cafes are a great cheaper option (or even free). If you’re struggling with the cost of venues and are an officially registered Climate Action Group, you can apply for a small grant through the Climate Action Group Fund.
- Candidates want all the local press they can get during the election period, so make sure you invite local press to your hustings. When inviting candidates, be sure to let them know that press have been invited or will be attending.Follow up after your hustings with a press release including photos from the event. Download this template press release to get you started.
- Leave ample time for audience questions, as hustings give the community a unique chance to ask questions directly to candidates.
- Get promoting. With the election fast approaching, promoting your event on social media is your best option. Tap into your local network including friends, family and related community groups to help spread the word. If you’re able to make a leaflet quickly, you can distribute them outside local stations or stick them up in local restaurants and cafes for maximum impact. We can help too! Let us know the details about your event via firstname.lastname@example.org and we can email supporters in your area. You can also use our Action Network tool to create the event page and monitor attendees, so email us if you’d like a free account.
- Don’t forget to post photos along with key quotes from candidates on social media during your event using #TakeClimateAction. This will allow people who were unable to join your event to follow along. Using the hashtag means the entire climate action network can connect with the event too.
- Make sure to pick a chairperson who is not publicly affiliated with a political party. They can be a member of your group, a local journalist or even a local celeb. You need to ensure they are familiar with the key issues, and therefore able to push candidates for clarification. There’s a risk with hustings that candidates may go back and forth with one another so pick a chairperson who is also able to maintain order.
Structure for your hustings
Below is an outline on how to structure your hustings. This is only a template to help your planning, so adapt it and make it work for you.
Hustings roughly last 90 minutes, or a maximum of 2 hours.
- Attendees arrive and settle-in (10 mins).
- Welcome from the chairperson (5 mins).
- Introductory remarks from candidates (15 mins). This can be useful for attendees who aren't familiar with candidates. You can frame this around an introductory question such as "What are you going to do about the climate emergency if elected?" to ensure they stay on topic.
- Questions from the chairperson to candidates (25 mins).
- Audience Q&A (20 mins). You may want to think through how you want to structure the Q&A (for example, you can ask attendees to submit questions at the beginning of the event).
- Closing remarks from candidates (10 mins).
- Chairperson closes hustings (5 mins).
Remember to let us know what your candidates said during the hustings using our form. This way we’ll be able to build a national picture of what politicians are saying, and help you hold them to account for any pledges they made to you.