Jersey election: A look at the role of the hustings

Hustings meeting Hustings are being held for senators in all of Jersey's 12 parishes

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Welcoming voters to parish halls to question, test and heckle the candidates has become a fixture of election campaigns.

As Jersey's election campaign draws to a close, islanders will have had a chance to attend a record number of these parish meetings.

But do they still serve a purpose, and are hustings any indication of who will come out top in the polls?

I have been to a few of these hustings now and they tend to follow a pattern that involves supporters, rosettes and pamphlets.

The candidates and their supporters wearing rosettes are usually gathered around the front door to greet voters. They thrust pamphlets into their hands with the rest stacked up on the seats in the hall.

The pamphlets range from glossy printed pages with professional pictures of the candidates to home-made photocopies that have not been run through spellchecker.

The voters take their seats, the Constable or Procurer chairing the meeting will allow the candidates to make opening remarks, then move on to questions.

In a senatorial hustings there will be four or five questions, in constables' or deputies' hustings there could be 12 or more.

The parish halls are very often full of people, but some of them are supporters of the candidates.

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Many candidates would have built up an impression long before the campaign or the hustings started.”

End Quote Adrian Lee Political expert

The chairman will often choose questions from people he or she knows are parish residents and not everyone gets their questions answered, especially in a senatorial hustings.

At the hustings people have a lot of questions for candidates, but is the format still useful in an age of mass and social media?

Most of the candidates have handed out email addresses and mobile phone numbers and are appearing on the radio to answer listeners' questions.

Also, in recent years Jersey's political system has changed and judging by many of the questions at these meetings people want more change.

But despite their old-fashioned style, hustings in Jersey have actually only been in use for the past few decades.

Political expert Adrian Lee said: "They were commonplace by the 1970s but before that and in the pre-war period nomination meetings fulfilled the role that hustings do now."

Mr Lee said hustings made little impact on the elections because less than 10% of the electorate would attend the hustings.

Different styles

Every politician's style is different, some are well suited to hustings coming across as confident and professional, but others are not at home with the format.

They may be potentially great politicians, but when it comes to the bold, direct, head-butting style of a hustings, they might just shrink into the background.

BBC Elections 2011 BBC Radio Jersey will be broadcasting the election results as they come in throughout the night on 19/20 October

Mr Lee said a politician's performance at a hustings may not directly affect their results on election day.

He said: "There is no direct measure except that an impression of a candidate can be built up over the period of a campaign.

"But many candidates would have built up an impression long before the campaign or the hustings started."

The people I spoke to after hustings said they found them quite helpful and seeing the candidates in person helped clarify their minds.

But there are others who do not feel they need to sit through two or more hours of debate to make up their minds.

There are a dozen more hustings to come before election day and BBC Radio Jersey will be broadcasting the very last senatorial hustings to be held in St Helier on Tuesday 18 October.

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