A behind-the-scenes peek at the West Wight hustings

By Carole Dennett Jun 16, 2024
A packed Newport Minster for the hustings

The venues were booked, tickets issued, and the sound engineer secured, much like assembling a boy band but with significantly less glamour. Darren Toogood, the editor of Island Echo, and I decided it was time to iron out some finer details.

“Shall we have music as everyone arrives?” Darren asked, optimism beaming from his face. “Great idea!” I said, channelling my inner DJ. “How about ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ or ‘I Predict a Riot’? Maybe even ‘Fight Song’?”

“Perhaps music isn’t such a great idea…” Darren responded, visibly deflating before my eyes.

Organising a hustings meeting with Island Echo seemed sensible — until it wasn’t. It required a Herculean effort and had to be done very quickly, all while juggling our day jobs. Newport Minster and Ryde School agreed to host the meetings instantly, and waived any charges. They’ve been saints – really!

We jumped through hoops to ensure fairness, even down to a ballot for where the candidates would sit. When we discovered party activists were block-booking seats, we zapped their reservations faster than they could say “democracy.” The backlash made it seem like we’d stolen their family heirlooms. “We need to attend both hustings as we are party activists who need to know what to say on the doors in both seats,” one indignant attendee protested, as if we were offering a free training camp in political spin.

The actual event went fairly smoothly, though herding all the candidates to the front for sound checks was akin to corralling caffeinated cats. Getting them to stay put, while the audience filed in? Even tougher.

During the meeting there was some heckling from an elderly Tory lady quickly put down by Richard who commented “This isn’t pantomime”. Bob didn’t agree and upset on behalf of his supporter, hissed in his best pantomime baddie voice “Respect the audience”.

Some comments on the voting slips for the exit poll were, dare I say, genius. One particular favourite declared, “If Bob Seely was Labour, I’d probably go for him. Politics is hard.” I’ve no idea whether Richard’s wife was present but one enthusiastic supporter who put a tick next to her husband’s name noted, “Love will always be the answer.” Others appreciated his grooming, one commenting, “I like his hair,” and yet another, “I like his glasses.” Politics, it seems, is a fickle fashion show. One person even got into the spirit of the meeting and said it would help them make up their mind – once they’d read all the manifestos. Somebody’s suffering from insomnia!

Both left and right supporters moaned that the audience was biased against their champion, yet the exit poll showed pretty balanced support for the Conservative and Labour contenders. Perhaps Labour enthusiasts just clapped louder — while the Conservatives sat quietly plotting their next move.

Bob later sent out a text to his supporters saying the audience was “stacked to the left and that will be obvious in poll. I got 15 percent last time and 57 percent” a reference to the election result. So despite national polling looking grim for the Tories, our Bob is clearly safe as houses. He got 39 per cent this time – so using his logic he’s on course to get 148 per cent of the votes cast on July 4. But then Richard won 43 per cent of our exit poll vote – so he’ll get over 160 per cent. With the other four candidates taking part as well we’ll all have to vote at least six times to make sure there are enough votes to go round. We’ll pass on any left-over pencils after the East Wight hustings to the IW Council – they’re going to need them!

In a few weeks, we’ll see just how accurate our exit poll was. The excitement is palpable!

One down, one to go — stay tuned for next week’s shenanigans at the East Wight hustings!