As a candidate in the 2010 General Election one thing I really enjoyed was the hustings, what Americans would call ‘the stump’. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s the age-old tradition of candidates standing for election appearing on a panel and answering questions from their would-be constituents.
I was a candidate in Plymouth Moor View, and I generally found them to be good-natured, with the candidates giving positive answers about what they would hope to do, rather than too much knocking of opponents. It strikes me, however, that we should have more of this – politicians answering directly to their electorates – not just at election time, but all year round.
When I was up on the Hoe back in September to watch the America’s Cup it struck me that a perfect location for this would be the Belvedere, or what my father – a former city police officer – told me he knew as ‘the wedding cake’. In fact, back in the 19th century, the Belvedere was used for just that purpose, according to a local website dedicated to local history. Why not bring it back into use for that purpose?
Why not have the Leader of the council as well as the city’s three MPs (including South West Devon, as it covers Plympton and Plymstock) appear there two or three times a year and have an audience of people standing all around asking them questions?
It could be televised (at least by local news and on the new channel the city is set to receive) and streamed on the internet, with audience members encouraged to tweet as well. The audience could be randomly chosen from local Council Tax payers or be specially selected to cover a cross-section of the population (you’d need some selection to avoid it being taken over by unrepresentative political extremists). It could become a democratic tradition that the city becomes known for.
Personally, I’d like to see the work of the council and local representatives opened right up. The system is too closed, with anyone other than the Conservatives and Labour shut out. Councillors and people attending council meetings should be free to tweet. People should be free to film council meetings, and there should be an official streaming of meetings too. Many other councils do this, and Plymouth should do the same. In fact it should go further; the Belvedere idea should be part of a whole raft of steps taken to open up politics locally and make politicians more accountable for what they do and say. Politicians should answer to the people not just at election time, but all year round.