Primaries – After Bracknell what now ?
I was interested to see the latest Tory experiment with ‘open’ primary selection for candidates resulted in a less than predictable result for some of us in the world of Tweets and Blogs, but perhaps a slightly more traditionally anticipated outcome for the Conservatives who frequent the Blue Mountain Golf Centre. ( Iain Dale fails to win selection in Bracknell ) Resulting in the selection as candidate of local GP Philip Lee.
I’m not sure I can answer the questions this throws up – so I’ll restrict my self to musing over what the questions are.
First of all this wasn’t really a primary, and wasn’t all that ‘open’. It required pre-registration. and attendance at the Blue Mountain Golf Centre whose website alone would dissuade a good few from rolling up (Wonder if they have a no hoodies rule ?). More of a caucus really. However the principles are similar.
Iain Dale’s a big name in on-line politics. His blog is very widely read, and his connection with the notorious, and even more widely read Guido Fawkes blog has placed him centre stage in the blogosphere (if that’s not a few mixed metaphors and acronyms too far).
I’d imagine many people assumed that he was already an MP – and will be surprised by his non-selection. Iain puts this down (in the article linked to earlier) partly to negative spin on his homosexuality – I hope that”s not true, but fear that it is to some extent. I do suspect though that what is more likely is that there is an emerging tendency to favour local candidates – which I think would be mirrored in the Labour Party, and to favour individuals with “respectable” backgrounds – which I think will be more likely for the Conservatives, but may well affect Labour too.
That in itself is an issue. OK – I accept that people have a right to want a local candidate – but how will that sit with people who have ambitions to sit for parliament yet live in a safe sit for a party they do not belong to ? I mean if you’re a budding Tory candidate you’re not going to get very far in a safe Labour seat – or vice versa. Even in major swings of voting intentions – such as in Tony Blair’s 1997 victory, 300 or so seats never change their party ( source Electoral Calculus) – so I’m not sure how that opens things up very much. It brings the “Ryan Giggs” effect into politics – Ryan being surely likely to have been one of the worlds greatest international football players – were it not for the fact that he’s from Wales, who haven’t qualified for a major tournament in his lifetime.
It also seems to favour the local “great and good” – which might be good for me – who knows, if we can have GP’s I’m sure we could have headteachers, especially if I’m from a special school, and I’ve been a foster carer. Only trouble is I don’t know jack about politics – not really, just my own opinions, and I’ve never been a councillor or anything. But hey I’ve been a school governor so I’d get a few votes so it would be OK. OK until I got into parliament that is – then I’m not sure I’d have much idea of how to go on.
No – I’d rather vote for someone who had a little political experience under their belt – not just ‘world experience’ – but I’m not sure the ‘selectorate’ would agree.
I’m not really disagreeing with the idea of primaries, I’m just wondering about the practicalities – the niggles that would crop up and make them hard to work.
This latest Bracknell Primary for instance occurred because an MP stood down. So what would you do then if we had a mutual primary arrangement ? Have primaries for all the parties ? Or just the one ? And if you register to vote in an interim Tory primary (as Labour MP Tom Harris urged Labour voters to do Why you should vote for a Tory ) would that mean that you could still register to vote in the Labour one next time it came up ?
And I really don’t know what you’d do about safe seats. Get rid of them is the obvious answer – and I can see that that approach would have some popularity with local punters. Far better many would say, to have a well known local candidate, then a professional politician foisted on the consituency to make sure the chosen few are in the cabinet. I’m not sure though – I’d like to think that the party voted into Government won’t have half the cabinet deselected half way through the term of office, by disgruntled opposition voters registering for the primary (which they would if they wanted a say in a safe seat) – I’d also like to think that frontbenchers wouldn’t have to neglect their duties to spend time pressing the flesh in their constituencies too much just to secure re-selection.
These are all problems. Problems I’d like to think can be solved – they haven’t been solved yet though – and I think that the Bracknell Tory primary result indicates that very well.
I can’t really answer the questions – so I’ll just reiterate my opinion – Primaries are a possible way of re-democratising and re-energising politics – but I feel they can only do this if they are part of a calory controlled diet. (Sorry – I made the last bit up – I meant – Only if they are part of a wider range of electoral and constitutional reforms)
What I’d like to see as a starting point is all of the major parties putting Primaries and Electoral Reform in prime position in their manifestos for the forthcoming General Election, to let the public know exactly what kind of a will for change each party really has.
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