Of Hustings, Polls and University Communities : Getting Engaged!

Professor Amelia Hadfield and Dr Alia Middleton : Co-Directors of the Centre for Britain and Europe (CBE)

Election hustings have progressed somewhat from their origins as a platform in the centre of town where unpopular candidates ran the risk of being shouted down or pelted with vegetables. Yet they remain a great opportunity for local candidates to respond to the concerns of their prospective voter base. This is particularly the case where – as in Guildford – voting patterns having shifted from being concentrated behind one party to split across the available rainbow of options. In this blog, we provide a quick overview of November 20thhustings, and the range of activities that staff and students have been undertaking throughout the General Election campaign to foster healthy, participatory attitudes to political debate. As you’ll see, we’ve been busy!  

Uni-hosted Hustings

Led by the Politics Society, with the support of the Department of Politics, our 20thNovember hustings aimed to gather all 5 candidates together, in a well-publicised, public event, giving as many people in the Guildford and university community the opportunity to hear the range of options, policies and promises from the contending Prospective Parliamentary Candidates. As we made clear in our opening and closing statements, universities world-wide have a permanent and serious duty of care to support the education of their students, provide regular opportunities to foster debate on a range of key issues for staff and students, and work diligently to engage with and support the needs of the wider university community on issues of national and local importance. I’m delighted that the strong turnout allowed us to present the Department of Politics in this respect. I’m also indebted to Ryan Pratt, President of the student Politics Society who was a most professional Chair to my Moderator, and also ensured that all students were presented with an opportunity to register online in order to vote, by ensuring that a representative from VoteForYourFuture helped to open the proceedings (https://www.vfyf.co.uk/). Ryan was seen knocking on every door on campus the day before the deadline, to make extra, extra sure all UniSurrey students were registered to vote! 

The hustings was also a perfect opportunity to get an auditorium full of engaged citizens to indicate their preferences using a simple online poll; both before and then after the candidates had presented their case. It’s worth bearing in mind that this election sees record numbers of female candidates standingnationally, including Guildford, where four of the five candidates are female. Hopefully, the final nationwide results next week will boost gender representation in the House of Commons, which is currently languishing at 39thposition in the global rankings. 

Guildford Trends 

What did our own hustings poll actually tell us? First, that the Conservatives have a steady vote in the area; we see no change in the polling before and after the event. This is not a surprise, for two key reasons. The Conservatives have held the seat since 2005, so the local party is well-institutionalised and embedded in the constituency. Also, despite a decline in party identification over recent decades, there remain a proportion of voters who ideologically are predisposed to certain parties. The poll also tells us that we shouldn’t write off Anne Milton as a local candidate. She has represented the seat for fourteen years and has likely built up a proportion of the vote that is personal to her as a candidate. It is unusual for an independent candidate who is standing alongside their previous party to do particularly well, but as we know, this election is pretty volatile. Anne Rouse from Labour held steady but has a lot of ground to make up: Labour have remained at a stubborn third place in Guildford since 1983. Zoe Franklin from the Liberal Democrats saw a slight decrease in the pre/post hustings polls, which might be uncomfortable reading for the party as they are pushing hard to win Guildford. They are hoping to benefit from Anne Milton’s candidacy splitting the Conservative vote and reclaim the seat they last won in 2001. 

Of course, all the usual provisos that accompany polls apply here. There were slightly more people who voted in the poll after the hustings than the one before. We can’t tell what extent these new polling participants adjusted the final result, but if we look at the broad trends, the two parties most popular were Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Definitely take this with a pinch of salt; although this was a public hustings, the audience are not necessarily representative of the demographics more widely in the Guildford constituency. As we’ve seen over recent elections, the polls have often got things spectacularly wrong, yet we still rely heavily on them to gauge how the election campaign is going.

National Trends 

 At the end of November, YouGov released their pollforecasting vote intentions and the results have been heavily publicised as this was one of the first polls in 2017 that pointed to the loss of the Conservative majority. Already we have Labour changing their campaigning strategy, and this poll has been scrutinised by strategy teams, so it does matter in that it may change the way the parties. It has Guildford down to be a close fight between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. But again, approach with caution. This poll applies national polling to the local level, and simply cannot account for any important local issues, or tactical voting. We also have almost two weeks of the campaign left, and anything could happen….

General Election Extravaganza ! 

To conclude, I’m delighted that the students have kept up the relentless drive to keep students, staff and Guildfordians more broadly engaged with the General Election 2019. From the November hustings, we’ve seen some incredibly important developments: 

  • DrAlia Middleton, Co-Director of the Centre for Britain and Europe has delighted fans everywhere with her unrepentantly pithy weekly General Election observations: https://www.surrey.ac.uk/centre-britain-and-europe/news.
  • I’ve penned my own blog (@ameliahadfield1) on the difficulty in voting faced by British expats: https://ukandeu.ac.uk/of-proxy-and-postal-votes-expats-struggle-to-remain-enfranchised/#
  • Dr Roula Nezi and Professor Simon Usherwoodfrom the Department of Politics have helped build a key website that helps identify which political party most closely aligns with your own preferences: https://www.whogetsmyvoteuk.com/#!/. If you haven’t already tried it – then do! 
  • Professor Simon Usherwood’sown election insights – from both British and European perspectives: are all readily available on our Politics Blog page: https://blogs.surrey.ac.uk/politics/
  • Chloé Meley and Bethany Dawson, Co-Editors in Chief of the Surrey Politics Society Journalpublished a General Election Specialwith extensive coverage of national and local issues: https://issuu.com/incitejournal/docs/incite_final?fbclid=IwAR3yH4ATvzkZJAjW056LghMWla9UuV5gjGSJYQ-uLUGLb9hPrBkz3bej4Gw
  • PolSoc Prez Ryan Pratt and the Department of Politics together are putting together at Election Night Extravaganzaat the Basement, UniSurrey Student Union, kicking off at 9pm on 12thDecember, welcoming ALL students, as we watch the results come in! Local press, the Incite Journal and other keen observers will also present.  
  • Alia, Simon and I are variously haunting the airwaves throughout election night and the morning of 13thDecember, providing our insights on the results.

No doubt we’ll have more clear-eyed blogs, public events, and student-led forums to help us digest the outcomes as we move through December and into the new year. Updates can be found on the Politics Blog page (https://blogs.surrey.ac.uk/politics/), and the Centre for Britain and Europe (https://www.surrey.ac.uk/centre-britain-and-europe), as well as our various twitter handles!