What to do about the General Election?

What to do about the General Election?
Chris McCartney
5 June 2024
12 minute read

Many of us may have mixed feelings about an election. You might see it as the chance to have a say, to vote for what’s close to your heart, for a fresh start. Or you might feel your choices are narrow, what’s close to your hearts isn’t getting attention and the blanket campaign coverage makes you want to retreat under a rock until it’s all over! 

But how can this tumultuous time be an opportunity to highlight what really matters to you and your community? And how can you bring care and compassion into the fray, when elections can quickly become about what divides us? Here, we share some resources and reflections to help your local group navigate the opportunities – and risks – of the election. 

1. Common ground

The fevered debate around elections can trigger some people to use damaging language, to stereotype people in our communities and to over-simplify complicated issues. For some, it can be a time of genuine fear as issues are stoked and scapegoats sought to distract and deflect. This fractures relationships in our communities and with each other long after polling day is over. 

All year round, Transition groups seek to be places where people can come together and build common ground, focusing on our shared concern, vision and the practical action we can take to make our places better, thriving and fairer for everyone. This is something we must hold to strongly and with care in the face of those who would divide us for short term electoral gain.

Last year, the Migrant Rights Network published a ‘Words Matter Manifesto’ calling on candidates and voters to reject hate-filled language. There’s an invitation to contact your local parties and candidates and ask them to pledge they will stand up and challenge language which encourages division and harms migrants, including refugees. Download a template and find out more here.

2. Convene

Another way Transition groups are well placed to contribute is convening people and organisations locally, using their existing connections and practice of working collaboratively to bring people together to listen and explore what matters to them. 

A poster advertising Transition Wilmslow's husting events. Text reads: "What do our Tatton Candidates know about Climate Change? Saturday 8 June 1.30-3.30pm URC Hall, Chapel Lane, Wilmslow SK9 1PR. come and listen to our Tatton candidates talk about their plans for nature recovery, biodiversity and climate change. submit your questions: transitionwilmslow@gmail.com. With Nigel Hennerley: Green, Ryan Jude: Labour, Esther McVey: Conservative, Jonathan Smith: Lib Dem. Chaired by Professor David Hulme (Manchester University Global Development Institute)

A “Hustings” event is one way that local communities give a platform for people to connect with and question their candidates. These can be in a particular area or themed. Indeed, Transition Wilmslow has already held a climate change themed hustings in their area – fast work! Watch it back here (complete with yellow cards).

Traditional hustings can feel a bit top down though – with most of the focus on what candidates have to say, and local people left in the listening role, maybe asking the occasional question. What if… we could shift the balance to giving a platform to local concerns and voices, with candidates taking a turn to listen and respond? 

That’s how Transition Town Tooting approached it when they organised a different kind of pre-election event in 2015.  

Hilary Jennings, one of the organisers, described it: “We did a husting where instead of getting everyone to come and ask the candidates questions, we got everyone around tables to talk about what they wanted the place to be like and then we put what we wanted collectively to the candidates. …I think asking people what they would like, what they’d like to be different, is a really powerful thing to do. If you trust people’s responses you get really interesting stuff. It’s using the collective brain rather than just saying we know what this place needs.” Here’s their guide to how they did it and the big questions and ideas which emerged.

Some other ideas to consider to make a pre-election event more of a dialogue and a chance to amplify voices that are seldom heard: 

  • Be proactive about getting different voices and life experiences in the room, inviting a wide range of local groups, faith communities and projects
  • Choose an accessible, neutral venue used by the whole community
  • Think about how you’ll gather questions so everyone has a say – not just the loudest voices! 
  • Ensure even those who don’t have a vote are able to participate and share their views. You could reserve some time for young people’s questions, for example. 
  • Ask how candidates want to be held accountable to the local community, and how they plan to continue the dialogue throughout their term? 

Of course, in your day-to-day activities, the chances are you are already bringing people together regularly. Maybe you run a community climate hub or outdoor space, a monthly repair cafe or a regular Green Drinks or conversation cafe.  The way you hold the space can give people a chance to build common ground and, where they do disagree, to do so respectfully.  

Making space for people to process their feelings around the election and the issues being debated is important. Connecting people with those from different parts of your area, different backgrounds and life experiences is vital to think about what works for everyone in our community, not just people like me. These day to day activities may not get as much attention as a campaign stunt or controversial announcement, but you are spreading the glue that can help hold your community together for the long term. 

3. Raise the community voice

Transition Network is a registered charity, and as a movement we are intentionally not party political. But many of the pressing and everyday issues we are all concerned about, well-informed about and actually delivering projects on are deeply political with a small ‘p’. 

Many groups set up and run volunteer community gardens or allotments, because we are concerned with where our food comes from, local food resilience and everyone being able to access healthy, fresh, affordable food. Community renewables projects have emerged from several Transition groups, because local communities want a say in how and where their daily electricity is generated, and who profits from it.

The political parties and the media will decide what they think the “key election issues” are – but what are yours? They’ll tell you what their manifesto says – but what would a community manifesto, which local people came together to craft, look like? You can absolutely bring the issues and questions you care about into an election campaign, particularly on a local scale, whether that’s by hosting events, raising them at other people’s events or even just on the doorstep. 

You might even have already done the work. If you’ve held Citizen’s Assemblies, like Sustainable Tring and Portland 4 the Planet, or a community visioning process, like Transition Southampton, or even just convened discussions or events around particular issues, like the Transition groups along the River Exe, with their River Conversations, why not take this chance to share any material already gathered with your candidates and ask their views? 

Transition co-founder Rob Hopkins has curated a Ministry of Imagination Manifesto, asking contributors to his podcast what change they would like to see if they were in charge. He described why the project was needed: “This year, perhaps now more than ever, we need a taste of what policymaking underpinned by the radical imagination looks like.” These bold ideas come from campaigners, economists, artists and more, including Brian Eno, Rutger Bregman and Kate Raworth, would certainly bring some fresh energy to some of the sticky problems our politicians wrestle with. Read the manifesto here.

This is also a moment to think about who’s not being heard and if you can amplify their voices. Before this year’s local elections, Planet Cheltenham facilitated their youth group (some too young to vote) to craft a joint open letter to candidates based on their concerns and ideas for the future of the area. They worked hard to get it out there and in front of every candidate. 

The youth group said: “Young people shouldn’t be burdened with the task of being the source of ‘hope’ for older generations, each generation should give hope to the ones after… Please think beyond your term in office, and for the long term, to ensure that the generations to come can enjoy our town too.” (Find out more about Planet Cheltenham’s youth group in this Skillshare)

It’s important to note there are additional restrictions on campaigning in an election period if you are seeking to influence candidates or the election outcome. Check out this really useful overview from Tipping Point

4. Back other causes

It’s also a time that we can come together as people and movements working for positive change. It’s a chance to support and amplify the campaigns of other organisations which are seeking to use the election as an opportunity to highlight and progress important issues. Here are some you might like to check out.

Spotted in a greengrocers among the veg: Greenpeace’s Project Climate Vote post cards

Greenpeace has launched Project Climate Vote. Like candidates, they’ve been knocking on doors for months, in their case, to canvass people about climate, and ask if they’ll pledge to vote on climate issues. There’s still time to join in to Get the Vote Out.

Zero Hour has ramped up their campaign for a Climate and Nature Act in the new Parliament. Sign on as a group and/or ask your candidates if they will back the bill if elected.  Read more. Transition group and community hub Zero Guildford has set themselves the challenge of getting their constituency to top the league table for most supporters for the Climate and Nature Act.

Restore Nature Now – Plans to hold a huge march in London on nature restoration have taken on new significance, falling in the middle of the election campaign. Find out more here and consider joining with others to attend on 22 June. 

5. A say is for life, not just elections… 

It feels like a great deal is at stake, with different visions and priorities for the future of our country. But this is not – and should not be – the only time we have a voice. Our work is to empower ourselves and each other to shape the future of our communities all year round.  Elected representatives, at all levels, should see the value in the grassroots solutions being built by community groups, and seek to support them.

Our incoming MPs have the power and responsibility to unlock the potential of community-led solutions to our climate, nature and inequality crises, with the laws they pass and the framework they create. They have it in their hands to pass a strong Climate and Nature Act, as above, and to quash barriers to community owned energy through the Local Electricity Bill (check it out here:  https://powerforpeople.org.uk/). The new Parliament can also give communities more power to shape their areas – as We’re Right Here’s campaign for a Community Power Act sets out. (Find out more and add your support here)

So, it’s not all about 4th July. The practical work of bringing about a Just Transition to a better, fairer, thriving future doesn’t stop for an election campaign, and will continue after 5th July. Of course it matters who sits in the House of Commons – and what they choose to do with their power – but it matters too what communities do to come together. That’s why we’ll be back next month with more inspiration for following up the election and building relationships with your incoming elected representative – whatever the results. 

More Resources and opportunities

Friends of the Earth – Guide to planning a hustings (See above for our tips on adapting a traditional hustings to include voices across the community, and to amplify the community’s views).

Tipping Point is urging grassroots groups and individuals to come together in a movement to make this election a tipping point for justice and climate issues. They’ve a host of online trainings, stickers, posters and guides to organising locally. 

Climate Outreach report on communicating climate in this election campaign

Hustings and other local events and activities

  • Carmarthen Together/Sero Carmarthen Bilingual General Election Hustings – 17 June, at Sero’s community hub
  • Chester Zoo and Wildlife charities: ‘Big Nature & Climate Debate’ broadcast via YouTube at 7pm on Tuesday 18th June here
  • Vision Group for Sidmouth General Election Hustings – 19 June, All Saints Church
  • Zero Climate Harrogate Climate Hustings – 19 June, Wesley Chapel
  • Battersea Climate & Nature Hustings – 23 June, 6pm, St Michael’s, Wandsworth Common
  • Zero Carbon Shropshire – Nature & Climate Hustings and Debate – 25 June, Shrewsbury United Reformed Church
  • Transition Haslemere and partners “Climate in our Constituency” Hustings – 25 June, 7.30pm at Liphook Millennium Centre
  • Climate & Resilience Centre Worthing (CREW) Community Hustings – 25 June, 7.30pm at St Mary’s Church Hall, Goreing By the Sea
  • Sustainable Northwich & Winsford Sustainability Partners Mid Cheshire Climate Hustings – 26 June, Winford Academy
  • Greener Steyning Climate Election Hustings – 26 June, 7pm at Steyning Grammar School
  • Climate Action Leeds Climate & Nature Leeds Election Question Time – 27 June, online
  • Holborn St Pancras Climate & Nature Hustings, 27 June, 7pm at St Pancras New Church

Contact us if you have an activity you would like us to highlight.

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