Through the Looking Glass
The General Election May 7th Cambridge Guildhall
4. The Hustings Events
The Hustings in Cambridge became major crowd pullers and very well attended events regularly pulling in audiences of well over 100.
The PPCs in Cambridge were invited to attend 34 Hustings, and we recorded twelve of these, covering many different domestic and foreign policy issues. Hustings organisers and Chairs were interviewed by us as well as talking to the PPCs at the Hustings events too (see our Candidates Section), and the various pressure groups who had organised or attended the events.
The voters sitting in the audience were spoken to about their reaction to what had been said and whether or not it would influence the way they voted. Some had already made up their minds how to cast their votes, but many were still undecided, reflecting what many people had thought that the opinion polls were not reflecting people's real voting intentions.
The hustings required stamina and knowledge for the candidates to participate in, and at least one thought there had been too many. The organisers we interviewed were pleased with their events and how well they had been attended and the broad range of issues that were debated and probed by the audiences themselves.
Some thought the audiences had more knowledge than the candidates, but by subjecting themselves to intense public scrutiny in this way, sometimes attending three hustings a day, others said how well the PPCs had done and how good the UK's democratic processes were.
UKIP often declined to put up a representative at the Hustings, and Rebooting Democracy did not submit its candidacy in time to be invited to the many events that were organised months in advance. But the Conservative, Green Party, Labour, and Liberal Democrat candidates were good old troopers.
At least one, Daniel Zeichner, for Labour, smiled when he walked out of the 30th and last hustings from St John's College, after having participated in the Cambridge University, European Society Hustings event on May 2nd.
The Hustings - Part One
Unite Against Fascism in park picnic, Petersfield Park, Cambridge (April 4th, Petersfield Park)
After a recent racist attack upon a woman wearing a head scarf in Petersfield Park in Cambridge City Centre, the Unite Against Fascism team sprang into action and organised a rally.
Richard Rose, the organiser of the event said: "We want people to stand side by side with the victims of racism - we wanted to show that all sides were united against this attack, a broad swathe of people."
The Bike Debate Hustings (April 7th, Friends meeting House, Cambridge)
Cambridge is a cycling city, and the Cycling enthusiasts and discontents organised a Bike Hustings. The Green PPC Rupert Read told us: "There is a lot of concern about various transport issues in Cambridge, and a lot of concern about air pollution and gridlock on the streets etc. These are strong areas for us in the Green Party to campaign on."
Keep Our NHS Public Hustings (April 13th, Wesley Methodist Church)
Margaret Ridley Chair of Keep Our NHS Public, said: "We wanted to help people decide how to vote on the NHS. We had two hours and people could have gone on for longer. The candidates were wilting a bit at the end."
Jean Simpson, a member of Keep Our NHS Public told us: "The audience were more informed than the candidates on many of the issues and we wanted to inform them, TTIP (The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) was one of them. They had not done their homework. I would vote on the single issue of the NHS."
Buddhist Hustings, Buddhist Centre, Newmarket Road (April, 15th)
Priananda Joseph, Organiser and Buddhist teacher said: "I wanted the members of this community to have an opportunity to meet the candidates and see how they respond to a wide range of issues. We don't just sit under trees and meditate, we need to be as informed as possible, that was my desire. Buddhists lean in a green direction. If you believe in unlimited growth you are either mad or an economist."
Listen to the interviews:-
or download the MP3 file (file size: 9.23MB)
The Hustings - Part Two
Unite Against Fascism Hustings (April 20th Café, Norfolk Street)
Nazarene told us why as a Muslim woman and activist she had organised the event: "I did invite UKIP and they could not come. We are building our numbers. All across the country there are Stand Up To UKIP branches. People are getting negative reaction to wearing the headscarf. I get micro aggression, people are always asking about my heritage."
The Housing Hustings (April 23rd, Oddfellows Meeting House, Newmarket Road)
Duncan Stott the organiser of the event said: "People are being priced out of the housing market in Cambridge. House prices are over £300,000 and the average earnings are ten times less than that. We wanted to ask the candidates how they would address the housing crisis in the area, and bring pressure to the politicians to show this is an issue that matters to people. It does help people decide how to vote but it allows direct access to the candidates too and people can ask where they stand on this issue."
The U3A Hustings (April 27th Friends Meeting House)
Beth Morgan, one of the event's organisers (Steve Marshall was the other) said: "We are both interested in politics, it was good to let the candidates say what they wanted to say rather than hear them on the radio where the presenter just jumps in after five words. Everyone submitted their questions in advance and then it was a bit random. I slipped mine in on income distribution."
"Democracy is a very fragile thing and I think everything to encourage it should be done, we totally take it for granted. We have always had it but it doesn't always have to be the case, you have to work at these things to keep them going."
The Anglia Ruskin Students Hustings (April 28th, Anglia Ruskin)
Beth Price, the Programme Controller Cam FM and organiser said: "We are a student radio station and this was our second hustings broadcasting live. We have a student based audience among Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin students so the candidates have to target what they say. Students make up 17 per cent of the voters in Cambridge so it is a very important night for them too. We are tweeting but live streaming a video too."
Two students we later interviewed were first time voters and a third had voted for the first time in 2010. They said they were interested in a range of issues such as: "Tuition fees, student grants, and the minimum wage." One commented: "Trust is important to me too, there is so much uproar, it is difficult to know who to vote for."
All were still undecided as to how they would cast their votes. Perhaps the national pollsters, who got the result so wrong, should have spoken to them or come with us to a Hustings event.
Listen to the interviews:-
or download the MP3 file (file size: 12.2MB)
The Hustings - Part Three
The Middle East and Palestinian Hustings (April 27th - Friends Meeting House)
Mona, The Chair and a PHD student, said: "I think it went quite well, everyone has their passions and the situation in the Middle East is difficult and that was reflected on the panel. It was a good turnout, the foreign policy issues are important. People wanted to know how will the PPCs words translate into actions in the coming parliament. UKIP did not attend but they were invited."
Cambridge Assessment Staff Hustings( April 29th Downing College, Cambridge)
Simon Lebus, CEO of Cambridge Assessment said: " We wanted to give our staff an opportunity to see what the candidates thought about education but also about Cambridge. As a big employer it is good for our staff to engage politically and find out what the candidates have to say for themselves. They were concerned about the practical issues of living and working here, the cost of housing and cycling too."
"As the Chair of the event, I personally have found it very helpful, the PPCs are a thoughtful bunch. It is nicely unpredictable to be at a live hustings event, but too often questions are used as a platform for making more general political statements rather than being concise and listening to the answers of others. This was their 26th husting and it must be completely exhausting for them."
The Churches Jubilee Hustings (April 29th Eden Baptist Centre, Cambridge)
Jonathan Tame the organiser said: "We are using Twitter and a Hashtag and we have two audiences, those who are here and those not coming but who are keeping an eye on us on Twitter. We have 800 followers and it is growing fast. There are different churches here and we are trying to educate Christians about how to engage in politics, public life and the economy. Freedom of religion, freedom of expressions, poverty, food banks, we are expecting that there will be a number of hot potatoes that will come up and also immigration too probably. House prices, congestion, generation rent, these are all issues in Cambridge."
Listen to the interviews:-
or download the MP3 file (file size: 7.47MB)
The Hustings - Part Four
Cambridge University European Society (the last) Hustings (May 2nd St John's College, auditorium)
Anna, the Outreach Officer of the Society told us: "I am German and I can see that the European issues are not being tackled enough in this Election debate. The Conservatives have said they might leave the EU so it should be talked about more. UKIP are not here tonight, they were invited."
Matteo Mirolo, Vice President said: "I am French and Italian. I think we shouldn't amalgamate everything and create fear about immigration. These people are war refugees, I respect everyone's opinion so long as there isn't any amalgamation of the fear and the issues."
Sophie a young woman student in the audience said: "I wanted to see the candidates in the flesh. I am quite interested in their response to the UKIP stuff and the Europe question. Yes their answers will influence me I am quite undecided as to how to vote at the moment."
Guy an older member of the audience said: "In 66 years I have never been to a hustings. I Googled it at the last minute, found a website that listed all the hustings and this was the last one. I am decided on my vote but definitely think we should be in Europe and I won't be voting UKIP."
We also gathered reflections on the highly attended King's College Hustings which attracted over 500 students to the event. (April 30th Kings Great Hall). We asked student activist and Co-Chair of the Hustings, Eleni Courea to tell us what happened when we caught up with her the day before the General Election on May 6th in Kings Great Hall.
Eleni Courea told us: "I took the questions, there were a huge variety of questions from students from nuclear power to the NHS and this government's record on it. The students were most passionate talking about the Living Wage and the bedroom tax."
"Tuition fees was not one of the major focuses of the event. The most heated debate was over the bedroom tax, and we asked Julian why he voted for it and he had to defend it. That was the most divisive issue. People had checked his voting record on the Huppert Check website which showed he had voted with the IDS reforms to Welfare over 90 per cent of the time."
"I personally ensured that it was Chaired impartially. Julian stayed around with students to talk to us afterwards. It was a heated hustings. They are crucial events, people can see, hear and talk to their candidates, and they are good for democracy."
Listen to the interviews:-
or download the MP3 file (file size: 13.7MB)
Daniel's Last Hustings - 34 and he is still smiling!
This is how Daniel Zeichner, now the Labour MP for Cambridge, greeted his freedom from Hustings events after the 30the one on Europe! Do listen - it is fun!
Daniel told us: "I am free at last!" And what did he find most challenging?: "The tedium, hearing the same arguments time and time again and remaining civilised. I think there were too many, next time I will organise it so we have a more rational approach. It is talking to people one to one that makes the difference not the Hustings."
We then asked two students at the Husting, Seana and Chris to tell us their reaction to what the panel said on Europe. The absence of UKIP was commented on. As students they found registering to vote easy but said: "Why can't there be an app to vote?", said Chris. While Seana said: "The debate has informed my voting I will be more progressive in voting in a General now!"
Listen to the interviews:-
or download the MP3 file (file size: 4.30MB)
Dedication: This Eight part documentary is dedicated to my friends Simon Sedgwick-Jell (Green Party), and Ann Stockford (Labour Party). Both were well known political campaigners in Cambridge. They may support different parties but each supported and participated in democracy and befriended me. My respect goes to the candidates of all the political parties and their teams of supporters.