Guide to planning your online hustings

If you’re thinking about holding a hustings for an upcoming election, we’ve got you covered. This guide will give you tips on how to organise and structure an online hustings, as well as important guidance on how to remain politically impartial.

29 Jan 2021

Note on this guidance. You can use this guidance for Senedd, local authority and metro mayoral elections. Sentences in bold blue are hyperlinked, and will lead you to additional information or downloads you may find useful to your specific election campaign.

On Thursday 6 May, elections will be held across England and Wales to appoint 7 metro mayors, the London Mayor, 60 members of the Senedd Cymru (Welsh Parliament) and councillors to around 150 local councils. Although some councils, combined authorities and the Senedd have declared a climate emergency, not enough is being done to tackle climate breakdown with the urgency it requires. The elections are a great chance to win real commitments on climate and allow voters to show what's most important to them.

One of the ways you can push electoral candidates on their position on the climate crisis is to hold an online hustings.

Why organise 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. It's also a great way to secure commitments from candidates, while building relationships with your potential elected representatives. They usually feature candidates from all major parties, are most frequently organised by local organisations, such as community or faith groups, and held in the area where the candidates are standing for election. However, due to the COVID 19 pandemic, hustings will need to be held online (see further guidance below).

You aren't restricted to a particular format. For example, you could host 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 covered.

While some hustings will focus on a range of issues, we suggest you organise a hustings focused on the Climate Action Plan appropriate to your election:

Focusing the hustings around the relevant plan will allow you to zoom in on the detail and ensure questions remain relevant.

If you're keen to show candidates that a broad level of support exists for action on climate, we recommend organising the hustings together with other local allies or groups. 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?

Co-organising the online event may also boost the number of people you have in the room and help spread the workload. For help on identifying potential alliances, read our guidance on building allies.

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 impartiality guide.

Before the hustings

Decide the basic details

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 you may need to arrange a date around their collective availability. Get your request in early and be as flexible as possible (use our template letter to invite your candidates).

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 currently hold seats in Westminster, the Senedd or in your Local Authority. 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.

Set up the event online

In order to ensure your safety and the safety of wider society, we strongly recommend that you only hold a hustings if you can do so online. Zoom is a great tool for this and you can set up your own account easily at Zoom.us.

It’s worth noting that calls are limited to just 40 minutes on free Zoom accounts, so you may want to set up a paid account for your group. Alternatively, we also have a few paid accounts for groups to use. Whilst we can’t guarantee we’ll have a paid account available, send an email to community@foe.uk to see if we’ve got a slot available.

The main benefit of Zoom is it's easy and accessible – anyone with a meeting link can join your call without needing an account. The only person that needs an account is the person setting up and running the meeting: the "host".

The Zoom webinar function will allow you to set up your event so that only the panellists and the host will be able to have their cameras on and unmute their microphones. Audience members will be able to submit questions via the Q&A feature, but won't be able to interrupt or talk over panellists.

To set up your webinar, login to your account and click on "Webinars" in the left hand menu. Select "Schedule a webinar" and fill out the details of your event. Make sure you’ve enabled Q&A and only select "Automatically record webinar" if you have permission from all the panellists to record the hustings.

Screen shot of how to set up a Zoom webinar

If you need a little extra help with setting up your hustings online, come to our free webinar on how to organise a hustings.

Get the word out

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.

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! Just send details of your event to community@foe.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.

Pick a chairperson

Make sure you pick someone to chair the hustings who isn't 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

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. Our one key tip is to leave ample time for audience questions, as hustings are a rare opportunity for your community to ask direct questions of their potential future representatives.

Hustings last roughly 90 minutes, or a maximum of 2 hours. It might be worth setting the Zoom webinar up to start 5 minutes before the public start time, so candidates can get settled and fix any connection problems.

In the event a candidate can’t join, don't panic! Ask if their campaign manager can stand in their place. And if worst comes to worst ,you could ask them to provide a written statement to be read out.

  • Welcome from the chairperson, including a brief introduction on Zoom guidelines (10 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 could ask attendees to submit questions at the beginning of the event via the Q&A feature.
  • Closing remarks from candidates (10 mins).
  • Chairperson closes hustings (5 mins).

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 holding a printed version of the plan and post it on social media.

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 network can connect with the event too.

Model questions

Good questions are a crucial part of any hustings, as they allow you to probe candidates’ positions and even secure commitments that you can use to hold candidates to account.

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 to your local area.

Local council model questions

Q1: Friends of the Earth has/ We 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 for everyone. 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?

Metro Mayors model questions

Q1: All investment decisions made by the Mayor need to be consistent with ambitious cuts in carbon emissions over the next decade (and the target to reach net zero by 20XX). What projects would you like to see scrapped or invested in over the coming years [here in X city region]?

Q2: A Local Government Association analysis says X green jobs could be created in the [X city region] by 2030. What are your plans for ensuring local workers benefit from the move from a fossil-fuel dependent economy to one that is low-carbon and nature-rich?

Q3: We know public transport use, cycling and walking needs to at least double within the next 10 years in order to cut emissions and ensure everyone can breathe clean air. This will mean more of us leaving the car at home. What action will you prioritise to enable people to make cleaner travel choices?

Q4: Evidence shows that people on lower incomes (including BAME communities) have less access to the physical and mental health benefits that living close to good quality green space provides. How will you increase tree cover and support nature restoration in X city region in the next 4 years? What will you be doing to protect green spaces that are under threat in our area?

Senedd model questions

To follow in late February.

After the event

You’ll probably want to do follow-up posts on social media and in the press after your hustings. Whatever you post or say, remember to remain impartial. 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’" – 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 impartiality guidance you’ll be fine!

Apply for funding

Don’t forget you can also apply to the Climate Action fund if you need financial support for organising your hustings or any other activities around the elections.

Elections