How National Campaigns Are Overshadowing Local Ones – Hustings, a Typical Example?
Last night Aberystwyth University hosted the first Hustings of the election, one of several planned for the candidates hoping to represent the mid-Wales constituency of Ceredigion in the next Parliament. The specific title question for the debate was “The Future of Health and Social care in Wales”, the debate, however, ended up covering a range of issues, and really demonstrated the importance of meeting and listening to local candidates to inform yourself before casting your vote. In recent weeks we have heard the main party leaders trading the usual insults and concerns over concerning the national leadership debates. As the possibility of national debates seems to be fading by the minute, this could prove to be the perfect opportunity to push people towards engaging with their local candidates. After all, these are the people they will be voting for in the election. It is important to stress that we do not live in a presidential system, but a parliamentary one. Local campaigning is at the heart of the General Election and we certainly need to engage with our local candidates more. In a University with such a fantastic and renowned politics department, the turnout for the Hustings last night was disappointing to say the least. There cannot have been more than 30 people in attendance, and only around half of them appeared to be students. Ceredigion is an interesting electoral seat, particularly in contrast to my native seat of Wantage, Didcot and Wallingford, where the Conservative Party has an electoral monopoly. Instead, Ceredigion is a two way battle, but not as many would think. Traditionally the Labour Party has had a very poor electoral showing in Ceredigion, and instead the seat has always been a battle between the Liberals and the Welsh Nationalists. The Hustings were particularly engaging because it really hit home that engagement with local candidates is of paramount importance before casting your vote. Even if you are an avid supporter of a certain political party, the need to engage with local candidates is strong, as many of them are grossly misinformed and do not represent their own party’s policies and views. Furthermore, many of them are drafted in from outside the constituency and have no knowledge of what the people want. Last night it was clear that the Conservative, Labour and Green candidates had been drafted in from outside the constituency, and this would be a massive turn-off for many potential voters. The Conservative and Green candidates, in particular, used generic phrases and statements, clearly provided from the national party, and not once mentioned local problems or situations that they would endeavour to resolve. This shows the need to engage with your local Prospective Parliamentary Candidates (PPCs), as it can really alter your view of who to vote for, particularly if you are a floating voter. Don’t look at the national leaders in isolation when casting your vote; after all they are merely the chief spokespeople for their party’s plan for government. Look at your local candidates, many of whom may know nothing about the place where you live, and perhaps not even care!
On the other hand, it is important to look at local candidates for another, fundamentally different reason. Unlike the Conservative, Green and Labour candidates, the Plaid Cymru, Lib Dem and dare I say it, UKIP, candidates had a real engagement with the local area. This was unsurprising with the Plaid Cymru candidate, who was a clear and avid advocate for Mid-Wales. However, the local Liberal Democrat MP, Mark Williams not only showed that he was passionate about issues within Ceredigion, but he also proved himself to be an independent and astute political operator, who ultimately had the interests of his constituents at heart. Now, if a voter were to look at the national press in isolation and see the barrage of criticisms that have been focused on Nick Clegg and the national party, one might be inclined not to vote Liberal Democrat. But if people took the opportunity to listen to Mark and hear that he voted against the rise in tuition fees, and against the second reading of the health and social care bill, they would realise that he had perhaps been more of an effective MP than he would perhaps be given credit for if one looked at the national media. This too, it must be added (reluctantly), was in part the case with the UKIP candidate. Yes he included in every answer what he called “the unelected European Commissioners in Brussels”, but he had a number of significant and valid points to make about issues within the local community and Ceredigion as a whole, and being a local councillor, seemed to really care about the county community. He also seemed to disagree with his party’s stance on the inevitability of NHS privatisation in the future which was refreshing (although perhaps he was standing for the wrong party). These experiences form just one, of what I can imagine will be thousands, of local Hustings occurring before the General Election across the country,. They show just how important it is to engage with your local candidates and get yourself informed before you cast your ballot in May. We are voting for an individual in the election, but not the ones we often see in the national media. You’re not voting for a party leader people (unless Cameron, Clegg, Miliband and co are standing I your constituency), you are voting for an MP, and these are individuals who will almost certainly disagree with their party in certain areas, and will have ideas and suggestions of their own to take to the House of Commons. This is why it’s important for us all to engage in local debates and hear what these people have to say! By Liam. R. Clements, Junior Writer for Daily Political View. Twitter: (@Clemmie_1)