Guide to planning your local election hustings

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.

11 Mar 2020

On Thursday 7 May there will be elections in England for around 118 local councils and 8 directly elected mayors. Some councils have declared a climate emergency but not enough is being done to tackle climate breakdown with the urgency it requires. These elections are a great chance to win real commitments.

One of the ways you can push candidates for the local and mayoral elections 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 councillors or Mayor.

What is a hustings?

A hustings is a panel discussion in the run-up to an election where candidates debate policies and answer questions from the audience.

Usually they are held in the area where the candidates are standing for election and feature all the local candidates. 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 focused on the Climate Action Plan for Councils or Mayors. This will allow you to zoom in on the detail and ensure questions remain relevant.

Friends of the Earth complies with all electoral law and regulations, and we are committed to conducting our activity in a way that is politically impartial. During elections, groups can't endorse or campaign for any party or candidate in their constituency, but they can comment on manifesto pledges and promises by the candidates.

To find out more about how to stay politically impartial – read our guide.

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 about a Climate Action Plan which you may want 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. You may wish to ask candidates about specific policies or issues that you consider most important locally.

Q1: Friends of the Earth/We has/have produced a 50-point Climate Action Plan that proposes a series of actions the Council can take to cut emissions and build a fairer and greener community. Will candidates, if elected, adopt an ambitious Climate Action Plan for our area to dramatically reduce carbon emissions in a fair and just way?

Q2: Waste and plastic pollution are a big problem and we know we can't recycle or incinerate our way out of it. What will you do as a council to ensure that you reduce plastic consumption in our area?

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?

Q5: How do you plan to support doubling tree cover in the area, as part of efforts to transform the way we use our land to help stop climate breakdown and help nature thrive?

Top tips to kick-start your hustings

  • At some point during your hustings make sure you ask candidates if they would agree to the need for a Climate Action Plan and ask if they’re okay for this information to be public.

If candidates agree, take a photo with them with a printed version of the plan and post it on social media.

  • 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.

  • You don’t have to invite every candidate standing in your area, as that could become unmanageable. However, you should ensure you invite representatives from all parties that hold seats in Westminster or in your Local Authority already. So that would be Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green party candidates in England, plus Plaid Cymru in Wales, and all Assembly parties if you’re in Northern Ireland - plus any other parties or independents up for election that are already on the council.
  • 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, that’s fine and you can still go ahead with the hustings. 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.

  • 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 climateaction@foe.co.uk 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.

You’ll probably want to do follow-up posts on social media and in the press after your hustings. It’s important to remain party politically impartial in this. The best way to do that 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 guidance you’ll be fine!

  • 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.

  • Leave ample time for audience questions, as hustings give the community a unique chance to ask questions directly to candidates.

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).
Elections