24 days to go – goodbye to the public meeting

This coming week of the campaign will see a number of what are known as hustings meetings.   Denise Burke, our candidate will be appearing alongside her Conservative, LibDem, Ukip and Green opponents in the major towns (by North Norfolk standards) of Wells, Holt and Cromer. These meetings are organised by local voluntary groups and are welcome enhancements to the democratic process. We have ample confidence in Denise’s ability to outshine these opponents. She projects well and is abler than them.

We will however be organising no public meetings. There is simply no demand for them – no one would come. Denise’s time is better spent on the doorstep. The demise of the open public meeting marks a significant change from the elections of the 1970s and 80s when I was a candidate. It was seen as obligatory to organise a whole series of meetings despite the fact that the only people who attend were your supporters, the odd person who came along to show how much they knew, and the occasional groups of opponents. Male Young Conservatives were a ghastly lot; they are the reason why I don’t enjoy Rugby at Twickenham.

Significant special interest group meetings were held during the 1983 General Election in Nottingham but most were organised by and for the minority ethnic groups – especially the Asian voters who had originated from the Punjab. The courtesy of the hosts made these events perhaps the most enjoyable part of the campaign. The pattern for the meetings was that a Chairman from the community would introduce the candidate and then, before calling on me, would call on another community member to speak in support. This supporting speaker would start by speaking in English but, after a few sentences, invariably say ‘with great respect to the candidate I can best make my political points in my own native language’.

At one of these meetings a non-Asian native Nottingham elector had heard in advance that the candidate was appearing at the local hall and, not realising that it was intended for a special group, had come along to listen. Far from being embarrassed he appeared to enjoy the experience and I noticed that he joined in the applause that greeted every important political point made in Punjabi and even laughed along with the jokes.

One thought on “24 days to go – goodbye to the public meeting

  1. Mi Martyn,

    I hope that you won’t mind me responding to your blog post? As you will appreciate I will need to beg leave to disagree with much that you write although I am finding it interesting to read your comments and agree with some of the points you make even if I challenge most of them (perhaps this point in the electoral process is not the time for me to indicate which things I do agree with)! I do want to challenge one point in particular though and that is the statement that Public Meetings no longer serve any purpose. You probably do not know (and why would you), that as DCP to the local Conservatives in Runnymede and Weybridge, I have chaired two such meetings in the past few months with Philip Hammond speaking to local constituents. The first meeting was attended by 50 people and I counted over 60 at the second. Judging from the questions asked and conversations afterwards, not all attendees were in the Conservative camp but all questions were answered clearly and with appropriate detail by Philip. Questions ranged from overseas aid, through national security, the NHS, the state of the economy and changes in bank policies affecting constituents’ savings, to local issues such as flooding, the rates paid for care home accommodation in the area, local rail provision and planning. I would say that all attendees were engaged and that a genuine attempt is being made by our Association to reengage people with politics. I think that what turns people off is the sense that the politicians are not listening to them and that they, the people, have little influence on the policies, laws and regulation that govern their lives. I know that we will have differing views of what a fair society looks like but I think that, first off, the public need to feel that people like us and the candidates that we serve and support are listening to them and engaging with them. This is what UKIP have succeeded in doing but their message is one of division, hate and fear. We, the mainstream and progressive parties need to show a united front against this sort of popularism and build a renewed engagement with the discussion of real (opposing) ideas. Less spin, more debate! That is why I am advocating more ‘town hall’ meetings, why I applaud your blog and why I beg your leave to submit this response. We need reasoned discussion of: the pros and cons, for ordinary people*, of private providers delivering services in the NHS; of the level of military spending that we should be committing to; of the best way to improve education; Of the impact that ‘the deficit’ has on the economy and where and why the burden of taxes/cuts should fall; of the benefits and issues caused by immigration (does Farage not realise, for example that far from bringing the NHS to its knees, immigrant labour keeps it on its feet?) … and on and on… There are so many things that need discussing and so few forums in which they can be discussed in an adult and constructive way. I await, therefore, the next instalment of you blog with interest.

    Kind regards,

    (I use my private e-mail address rather than my work one for political purposes)

    *I’ll avoid the ‘hard working British People/families rhetoric!


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