Croydon election hustings in 2015: time for community groups to ‘put up or shut up’


By - Wednesday 14th January, 2015

Jonny Rose wants YOU to revolutionise local politics


2015 stands as an important year for Croydon as it is the year of the general election.

Whatever your thoughts about voting, politics and politicians, it’s inescapable that 7th May 2015 stands as the best opportunity for everyday Croydonians to influence the laws and edicts devised and pronounced in the Houses of Parliament over the next four years.

As it stands, voters are most likely encounter their prospect parliamentary candidates/MP in the following ways: through pre-arranged visits to an MP surgery or them unexpectedly interrupting your Saturday by canvassing on your doorstep.

Whilst any exposure to your parliamentary representatives is valuable, in both cases your opportunity to interrogate them is largely limited by time and lack of preparation (respectively).

By far the most accessible and agreeable way for the community to weigh up its political representative is ‘election hustings’: any event, such as debates or speeches, during an election campaign where one or more of the representative candidates are present.

The current weaknesses of election hustings in Croydon

The problem with the current setup (and this is in no way to be interpreted as a criticism of local media) is that election hustings are by and large the preserve of our two local papers, the Croydon Advertiser and the Croydon Guardian who – without fail – put on exceptionally well-attended and well run events for the public.

The big idea is this: every local single-issue interest group should hold its own election hustings with parliamentary candidates

The problems are thus:

  • These local media-run public hustings are quite plural (wide cross section of attendees and, therefore, concerns) meaning they’re very generalist
  • Generalist hustings give rise to generalist answers from candidates – pat soundbites which reveal little about candidate’s knowledge of subject or ability to represent at the highest level of government

The proposed solution: multiple election hustings by single-issue/interest groups

Croydon Tech City MPs debate in April 2013.
Photo author’s own.

Inspired by the success of Croydon Tech City’s own MP debate with Gavin Barwell and Steve Reed in April of last year (you can read about it here and here) where an audience of nearly two hundred were able to take the MPs to task on the topics of entrepreneurship, the economy and employment skills, I’d like to suggest a way in which we can improve upon the likely election hustings scenario:

  1. Local single-issue interest group should hold their own election hustings with parliamentary candidates
  2. Each interest group should use the hustings to create (either in advance of, or in light of, the event) a codified ‘list of demands’ which can realistically be actualised by the post-election MP

Whilst some might plea that such a long campaign trail will become exhausting for candidates (So what? You’re to represent the public, not a conveniently reachable subset), this has manifold benefits:

  • Each husting would serve as a useful marketing/outreach and raise the profile of each interest group to members of the Croydon public
  • Multiple opportunities to scrutinise MPs rather than the one or two opportunities afforded by current roster of local election hustings
  • Deeper scrutiny on specific issues rather than having to put up with generic and nebulous soundbites
  • A codified & public list of demands from the event against which the winning MP’s progress and faithful representation of concerns can be measured against in the next parliament (this prevents against the rather individualistic, aimless and piecemeal shambles that passes for ‘lobbying’ at the moment)
  • Moreover, the codified list of demands give directionless MPs guiding issues to take up

An example of how these hustings might be parsed into ‘interest groups’ and who might convene the hustings, include:

Race and diversity – Croydon BME Forum

Environmentalism – Friends of Park Hill Group/Croydon Transition Town

Technology, economy and industry – Croydon Tech City

Education and skills – Croydon Supplementary Education Project

Cycling & liveable cities – Croydon Cyclists

General community & local government issues – Croydon Communities Consortium

The result?

If even ten single issue groups (the above aren’t exhaustive by any means: public health & well-being, immigration, faith & religious pluralism, and many more interest groups could convene!) were to get together and do this, with up to five legislative demands emerging from each hustings we’d have around fifty key ‘demands’ of our next MPs against which we can use to publicly chart and evaluate their progress.

Adopting the above plan would be a win for democracy, a win for community engagement,  a win for MPs who might feel directionless and a win for marketing various interest groups.

The alternative, of course, is the status quo: local community groups and individuals operating in silos with little or no direction who abjectly moan about the state of politics and calibre of politicians in Croydon but do little to rectify this in any kind of productive way.

Want to take this further?

If anyone is interested in pursuing the above model – emulating Croydon Tech City’s success in this area and would like assistance in how to get them going – with both a short introduction about yourself and the topic you’d like to take up and build a husting around. Thanks!

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training and a Linkedin lead generation service. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • Y Bachgen

    I totally agree with you Jonny. it might not get the desired outcome you want but, at the very least, it’ll be clear what the “active community” wants from their elected (and publicly paid) representatives.
    Organise and those who don’t turn up can be represented by the “empty chair”!

  • Bernadette Fallon

    Great idea Jonny – not only for groups to engage with politicians and politicians to hear targeted concerns, but also to open up community group awareness to the wider public – great platform for everybody to find out more

  • Sean Creighton

    Nice to be able to agree with you. One of the major topics for the election is the future of the NHS, so it is important that a health services hustings is organised.

    Your suggestions look like Borough wide hustings – which means the major parties are only likely to want to field one of their candidates from across the three Constituencies.

    Constituency based hustings run by residents, community and faith groups will ensure that all the candidates can be questioned. The more locally based hustings are the more people are likely to want to come. The parties will no doubt be running their own public meetings as well. A major problem with hustings is that most candidates of the main parties are unlikely to deviate from the national line to the manifesto they are agreed to support. So it is going to be tricky to get them to agree to make other detailed promises that are no in the spirit of the manifesto pledges. .

    In relation to the very interesting debate Croydon Tech City held with Reed and Barwell did you have a detailed note made of what they promised, and have you followed-up to see if they have acted on their promises?

  • angus_fx

    Most of these local issues are already devolved to local government, either the Mayor / London Assembly or the borough. The MPs certainly have a fair bit of influence – especially if they belong to the same party as the one which controls the council; but in terms of actual power? Not so much, especially if they sit on the opposition bench in the HoC. Further, high-calibre MPs on the winning side tend to be promoted to ministerial positions, and with the best will in the world, national and international responsibilities will take precedence over local concerns.

    I very much like the idea of issue-based hustings in place of the dreary ward-level hustings for local elections (though I wouldn’t base it too closely around campaign groups – democracy requires real debate & dissenting views), overall nice idea but wrong election? There were issue-centric hustings for the London Mayoralty, the Times newspaper organised one focused on cycling (after one of their journalists was critically injured on a bike a few years ago), and while the occasion was perhaps more heat than light, it was a hundred times more engaging than the Croydon local election events – and not just because of the big personalities on stage.

    Croydon deserves its own hustings for the Mayoralty / Assembly election next year & hopefully you’d get the actual mayoral candidates and not just the AMs.

    • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose

      Several mayoral candidates (including, you’ll be pleased to know, Christian Wolmar) have approached us about the opportunity to speak at Croydon Tech City.

      One of my grand aims for 2016 is to bring a Mayoral Debate with the full roster of candidates to Croydon so watch this space! :)

  • https://tradeonion.wordpress.com/ Jon Bigger

    Anything that encourages discussion of the issues is a great idea. As the Class War candidate for Croydon South I’d be happy to attend hustings but I have to say the people in the audience are as important as those standing or on the top table in my view. We need to subvert politics so that instead of representatives we end up with delegates who carry out our programme of policies after listening to us. That might take a while but let’s start it.

    • http://idioplatform.com/ Jonny Rose

      JB,

      I would LOVE to see you onstage at these types of hustings absolutely mixing it up. I hope other people really do run with the idea of multiple hustings and give you the opp.

      Out of interest, of all the topics above, which do you think you’re strongest on and already have the answers to (economy?) and which would you be weakest on and would have to swot up strongly on? Be honest!

      • https://tradeonion.wordpress.com/ Jon Bigger

        Maybe the economy but you know, which of these issues isn’t ultimately about the economy? Which of these issues isn’t about hierarchy and inequality?

        I think I would be strong across the board on linking these issues to the wider way in which most of us are denied a voice in mainstream politics or where that voice is a narrow projection of what the mainstream politicians want to discuss.

        There are issues missing off your list of course.
        * The demonisation of young people
        * The power of the state – the police, security agencies, the courts
        * Monarchical power and the hereditary principle (get Emily Benn on that one)
        * The syphoning of public money into private hands (get Chris Philp to talk about workfare where benefits get paid to people on the dole in exchange for giving them a job – in other words the employer gets a worker for free
        * The loss of rights we have as workers with anti trade union laws
        * Our loss of collective spaces as parks and town squares get put into private hands
        * The UK locks up people who travel here looking for a better life. Let’s talk about what the UK is and why some people think it needs to be a distinct space with a clearly defined identity. Let’s talk about how that’s a very recent notion and one that won’t be around forever.
        *How parts of the NHS are being put into the hands of private companies.

        This is not an exhaustive list. We need to discuss these important issues in depth and not simply have a Sky News style 3 minute chat about them.

  • Austen

    “Cycling & liveable cities – Croydon Cyclists”. Our interests (plural, not singular) and agenda are wider than that:

    * air quality – Nitrogen Dioxide levels at the George Street monitoring station break EU safety levels, yet plans are being laid to encourage and enable more people to drive along Wellesley Road into the new Westfield. Unless Shasha Khan’s legal challenge succeeds, we’ll have a fume-belching incinerator on our doorstep

    * climate change – Croydon is not immune from this, e.g. Kenley flooding last year, yet the welcome drop in motor traffic is to be replaced by a huge surge into Westfield, facilitated by a flyover in Waddon

    * congestion – enabling people to choose to cycle instead of only driving cuts road congestion, yet our politicians and planners want to enable more people to drive into Croydon

    * equality – over a third of Croydon’s households are car-free, fewer women cycle than men, and (where enabled) people with physical disabilities can and do use bicycles to get from A to B, but not enough is being done to tackle such inequalities

    * local economy – US studies have found cyclists spend more in local shops than drivers because they tend to visit the shops more often (and a bicycle costs a lot less to buy and run than a car), and well-designed cycle routes boost restaurant and retail trade

    * public health – lack of exercise and the rise in obesity and related health issues is costing Croydon’s NHS more than we can afford; inactivity is killing more people than obesity, and cycling is the perfect cure.

    * public policy – cities such as Stockholm and New York are adopting “Vision Zero” policies to tackle “traffic violence” through multi-agency measures and so eliminate road deaths, making the streets safer for all users

    * road safety – in 2013, more people were killed on Croydon’s roads than were murdered, yet the council’s 2014 survey on crime and fear of it made no mention of such grim statistics.

    * transport choice – many people would like to cycle to and through Croydon, but are put off by roads designed for fast, bad drivers.

    By all means, let’s have a public debate on what those who want to be our MPs have to say about all of the above.

  • Robert

    Good idea Jonny, on emphasis on local issues is good, otherwise we risk repeating the sterile debate we see on tv.

  • http://www.suttoncroydontusc.blogspot.co.uk Steve Appleton

    This is an excellent idea from the Croydon Citizen. Our candidate for Croydon North, Glen Hart (Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition) will certainly do his best to attend all meetings to which he is invited. He can be contacted at .

  • Tom Black

    Some great thoughts, Jonny – and certainly an interesting approach. A couple of limitations come to mind – presented here in the name of constructive criticism, of course!

    - A problem with the format of ‘will you agree to make this commitment and meet with us each year to make sure you’ve done it’ is that there’s no real downside to just lying or promising the earth. You can just stand up, say ‘yes, I’ll put cycle lanes everywhere’ and get a round of applause. Then you can just not visit the group again should you so wish. The groups that do this are often very important and play key roles in Croydon, but in terms of sheer numbers they aren’t going to swing the election on their own, even if every single member voted the way the group’s committee told them to (which is itself a dangerous proposal). Added to this is the number of people in all these groups that already have party loyalties: many will attend these community group hustings thinking (for example) ‘I hope the Labour candidate supports us, because I’m going to be voting for him/her’. This will further dent the ‘muscle’ these groups can bring to bear on democracy. I am not sure what can conclusively be done about this, but I would suggest it means you should look again at your exact proposed format (which currently relies on a number of realities that are not in fact real – MPs voting, for instance, is far more centrally-dictated than this article suggests, and those who rebel all the time soon find themselves unable to earn support to do anything at all for their constituents).

    - The other big problem with *all* hustings is turnout – in raw numbers, and in composition. I’ve attended a few in my time, and it seems to me that they are an awful way of reaching undecided voters. The turnout is generally quite low in the first place, and those that do attend are, as above, mostly members or supporters of one of the parties standing. This leads to the usual Punch and Judy politics and trying to get the most noise out of your supporters. If candidates want to reach genuine undecideds, they should go out doorknocking. I think your proposal goes some way to fixing the ‘meaningless back and forth debate’ problem that hustings have, but I would want to see more concrete ideas about turnout and reaching people without a partisan axe to grind.

    A great set of ideas, Jonny – I hope my own proposals are useful in their development.