Election Notes 29/04/10: The battle of hustings

Anyone who cares about democracy is in favour of anything that breathes life into politics. That could be electoral reform, Twitter, public meetings, canvassing, men dressed in chicken suits. There are actually lots of ways of encouraging discussion and debate. All are good.

I’m just not sure about hustings. I’m certain that they don’t deserve their revered status as a set piece at any election. They aren’t a sort of crystalising moment for electors.

I’ve been to a few this time around and I think they’re great. But I wonder how many people change their mind or go there because they are undecided. Not many, I venture. I certainly don’t think they should be considered as so sacrosanct in the election process. In fact, a lot of what some candidates said as downright dreary.

It does rather depend on the format. But personally, I find the question from voter and answer from candidate format rather stifling. It makes several assumptions. Not least that the candidate has an answer. Very often the person asking the question has rather more expertise to share. It is not a discursive environment.

I do think they play a part. But in this campaign I’ve seen more interesting exchanges on the doorstep, at smaller less formal meetings and also better discussions on the phone. And from a time point of view, sometimes one-to-one minutes can be more valuable than one-to-many.

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