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How to hold a hustings

What is a hustings?
A 'hustings' is defined by the Electoral Commission as “a meeting where election candidates or parties debate policies and answer questions from the audience. Hustings aim to provide voters with an opportunity to hear the views of candidates usually in the run up to an election”.

The next general election has to take place before January 2025. There has been lots of speculation in recent months about when the prime minister might want to call an election, with many commentators predicting it will take place in autumn 2024. With it on the horizon, the main parties are well along the way to picking the prospective parliamentary candidates that will fight each seat, so it’s a good time to be thinking about holding a local hustings.

Hustings are a great opportunity for candidates to see the important role that your college plays as an anchor institution in your community. But as well as of all the fantastic things happening in the college, don’t be afraid to encourage your students, many of whom will be first time voters, to ask candidates about the issues that are affecting them – for example local transport issues, lack of job opportunities in the local area, or difficulties accessing financial support. You might also open it up to staff who may be keen to highlight some of the key challenges facing the college, such as the defunding of Level 3 qualifications or wider funding pressures and the impact they are having.

Tips on organising a hustings

There are lots of different ways of organising and running these events. You might want to lead on organising them yourself or ask your students’ union (or a relevant student representative body) to do that, with your support. We’ve set out below some key tips and questions that should be considered when organising your hustings.

1. Decide the format: a popular choice is to opt for a ‘Question Time’ style event, with a panel of candidates and an audience made up students, staff, and other stakeholders putting forward questions. You’ll want to give each candidate a couple of minutes to introduce themselves and why they are standing before you move onto questions. How long it will last will depend on how many candidates you have, but most will last between one to two hours. You could combine the event with a college visit, giving the candidates the chance to see the fantastic work the college does beforehand.

2. Pick a date: do some research to make sure you’re not scheduling your own hustings at the same time as another similar event is taking place. You might want to hold the event during class hours to allow as many students as possible to attend, but bear in mind that many of the candidates will have day jobs. If you are inviting the sitting MP who is running again, then they will be in parliament usually Monday - Thursday unless they are on recess (you can find recess dates here).

3. Decide on the venue: if you are able to, holding the event in person at your campus would be a great opportunity to showcase the college to the candidates. However, if that is not possible then an alternative local venue would also work well. If there are issues around capacity, you might also want to consider live streaming the event online and allowing people to place questions remotely in order to make it accessible to as many people as possible.

4. Invite candidates: we would strongly encourage you to hold what the Electoral Commission describe as a ‘non-selective’ hustings. This means that the event “cannot be reasonably regarded as intended to promote any parties or candidates over any others”. Spending on a non-selective hustings is not regulated and does not need to be reported by anyone, which will make things easier for you and will ensure you are acting politically impartially. The Electoral Commission consider hustings to be non-selective if: a. you have invited all the candidates or parties known to be standing in the constituency, region or other electoral area, or b. you have impartial reasons for not inviting certain candidates or parties.

In the invitation to candidates, you should be clear about what the format of the event is, who the audience of the hustings will be and the type of questions that candidates may expect to be asked. Especially important is making sure the date, time and location of the hustings are on the invitation, and ensuring that the location of the hustings is within the constituency that the candidates are standing for. These principles are the same for mayoral elections, but you’ll want to work with other colleges in your region on these details.

    The Electoral Commission have some helpful guidance on what things you can consider when deciding whether or not to invite certain candidates or parties. Fairly often, parties might send another representative instead of the candidate depending on availability. You can find out who your current MP is here.

    5. Invite students: whether it’s you or your students’ union organising the event, you’ll want to make sure as many as students as possible are attending. It’s important to have representation from across your student population as well. You might also want to invite staff and some other key local stakeholders.

    6. Prepare questions: the primary aim of these events is to allow students to raise the issues that are important to them, and that should be the main focus of the event. We know that often students can be nervous to ask questions in front of their peers, so you might want to ask students to submit questions in advance that you can then use should the flow of questions dry up during the event. You will need to make sure that each candidate has the same amount of time to answer each question, and that you rotate who is answering each question first to ensure fairness.

    7. Manage the event: ensure that the event runs smoothly by appointing a chair to pick questions, keep time, and make sure candidates focus on the questions asked. This person must not be identified with any particular political party. You should also have a team of volunteers on hand to assist with tasks such as registration, seating, and passing around microphones.

    8. Follow-up actions: you may already have a good relationship with the sitting MP who might retain their seat so this will be a good chance to nurture that. This could also be the first interaction you’ll have with your next MP. Regardless, you will want to try and make sure they make a commitment to supporting the college and the sector more widely if they are elected.