Churches to host hundreds of general election hustings - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
April 15, 2005

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Churches to host hundreds of general election hustings

-15/04/05

Hundreds of Christian churches across the country are opening their doors to local constituency hustings meetings over the next three weeks, as part of the general election debate that runs through to polling day on 5 May 2005.

Even at this early stage in a campaign which is being criticised for its negativity, over one hundred hustings meetings have been organised. Anglican and Methodist churches are the most popular venues. But Baptist, United Reformed, Catholic, independent evangelical, Salvation Army and community centre buildings are also being employed.

The operation is being facilitated through the Churches Election website, which offers advice, resources and contacts. The materials are being prepared by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland with ACTS (Action of Churches Together in Scotland), CYTUN (Churches Together in Wales) and Churches Together in England.

In order to get the full details of the meetings, users of the site need to register. But links, prayers and churchesí election briefings are available in an open section. The Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, the Methodist Church in Great Britain, the Church of England and CYTUN are among those providing detailed material.

The site also contains material on issues ranging from criminal justice, family life and older people through to peace, poverty and debt and voluntary sector concerns.

Observers have noted that the links section of the Churches Election site mentions only the three major British parties plus Plaid Cymru and the Scottish Nationalists. There is no room for the Greens, Respect or other smaller parties ñ or even for the Christian Peopleís Alliance.

The organisers told Ekklesia recently that there are too many small parties and independents to list, and that they have decided to include only those who are standing in all seats (or in all seats in specific countries).

However Churches Election Co-ordinator Clare Hooper yesterday contacted organisers across the country with the latest advice from the Electoral Commission ñ which is that all candidates should be invited to hustings meetings.

Ms Hooper adds: ìIf only selected candidates are invited, then the costs of the meeting must be divided among those candidates who attend, and registered as part of their election expenses. However, if that sum should be less than £50 for each candidate, it need not be registered.

She goes on: ì[i]f any candidate is not invited, it is important to be able to show that the total cost incurred in organising and putting on the event (e.g. hiring a hall or providing refreshments or publicity) did not exceed £50 per attending candidate. Thus, a meeting attended by 5 candidates must not incur costs of more than £250.î

The advice is thought to represent concern over the presence of candidates from the British National Party and others of extreme and racist views. The churches have been strong in their condemnation of the BNP in the run-up to the election.

Organisers of the hustings stress that the churches are hosting these, as they have done in past election campaigns, in order to provide a platform for debate ñ not to endorse any particular viewpoint.

Nevertheless, it is hoped that local people of all religious persuasions and none will use the opportunity of a face-to-face encounter with candidates in order to raise questions which are being marginalised in the media ñ such as world development, global warming, poverty and urban and rural regeneration.

Local campaigners for human dignity also wish to change the terms of the immigration debate on the ground. So far, they say, it has been characterised by xenophobia, misinformation and ignoring the true plight of refugees and asylum seekers.

The churches across Britain have called on all political parties to stop treating immigrants and asylum seekers as political footballs.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.