I write this still in the strange spaced out daze that comes from doing two ‘stay-up-all-night’ sessions in one week. So I apologise in advance for typing errors, and make no apologies for not cross linking and evidencing everything I write.
David Cameron tells us that Gordon Brown & the Labour party have lost their mandate to Govern, and seems to believe he is now ordained as the next prime minister.
Leaving aside the fact that when he made his comments there were barely a handful of results in, and most of them had fallen to Labour, he is of course right. The mandate to govern – in the normal run of things – comes from having an overall majority – enough seats to outvote all of the other parties put together. Gordon Brown does not have that.
David Cameron’s Conservatives have more votes, and more seats – so can claim a certain amount of legitimacy in saying that they have a moral right to form the next Government. Problem is though that they don’t have a mandate either. In fact its clear that there are more people who voted against the Tories than for them, and more members of parliament who are not Tories than are.
So it becomes time to do a deal. Well to all left leaning political thinkers, the obvious deal is between Labour & the Lib-Dems – they share many ideals – and in particular there is a clear advantage in that for many in both parties it would be an opportunity to once and for all change the way in which Governments are elected, and ensure that a scenario such as today’s does not happen again. So Lib-Lab it is then.
Except David Cameron and the Murdoch empire think that would just be that nasty old Gordon Brown hanging on to power by any means they can – and it would just be so wrong. So instead of Lib-Lab, instead we get Con-Dem – and it already has been condemned by many, who can not imagine that the Lib-Dems and Conservatives have anything much at all in common. Except that this is really as things stand the only combination of parties that will deliver sufficient numbers for a majority – always assuming that none of the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats jump ship to another party.
But one way or another it would seem that one of these two options is likely to become reality.
I think both of these solutions are utter stupidity.
If our politicians wanted to transform British politics they would agree to form a government along these lines :
- not a two party coalition, but a three party Government of National Unity.
- Gordon Brown to step down – We love you Gordo, but your time has come – it’s clear that the public have not embraced your leadership – resign !
- David Cameron, well in the eyes of the public he has credibility, having gained the most number of seats, but in his own party’s eyes – you’ve failed Mr C. you’ve blown an ‘unassailable’ lead – Stand down and move on.
- Nick Clegg – well it could be argued that he’d messed up big style as well – certainly his party must be the most disappointed at their results, but actually I’d say no – Make Mr Clegg Prime Minister
- Next form an interim cabinet to select the longer term cabinet – each party to select 3 members who will have one week to thrash out the key posts – and to share the key posts between the parties.
- The Government then takes office – running a programme of legislation and Government agreed by the new Cabinet – with the whip removed from all members – they are always allowed a free vote.
- The Parliament will sit for a fixed term of 18 months. In the Autumn the parties will select their leaders if necessary, at party conference
- At Christmas or thereabouts we hold a referendum on different modes of electoral system
- An election is called at the end of the fixed term, and is held according to the new rules.
So we get stability, decisiveness, power sharing, a mandate to Govern, and an end to the disillusionment with political parties, and a brand new system of electing our parliaments.
A bit far fetched ? Naive even ?
Well maybe it is – but I’d prefer to use words like “radical” or “progressive” – because if British politicians are ever going to win back the trust and confidence of the electorate then they need to do something radical and progressive now – and stop sulking and doing deals to try and prop up the old political systems.
First past the post is designed for a two party system – as is our parliamentary system – yet in most constituencies yesterday we had 4, 5, or more candidates – First past the post doesn’t work – it distorts the picture of the vote, effectively disenfranchises voters for non-incumbent parties in safe seats, favours established parties, and throws up ridiculously stupid hung parliaments where the smallest group of members, effectively holds the other two to ransom. It has to go
I think it’s fair to say that I don’t think my proposal will be implemented
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.
I’ve read a lot of articles recently about “primaries” to select candidates for political parties – most from Labour Party sources – but not all – a surprisingly convincing argument is made by current bête noire Daniel Hannan in the Telegraph article A primary objective: make MPs answer to the people . There’s also a far more comprehensive list of web resources to be found on the Progress website, where supporters are also invited to sign up in support of Primaries.
So have I been converted ?
Well what I have recognised is the need for a change.
It can of course be argued that parties are for members, and that they alone should choose the candidates. Yet in many seats they aren’t just selecting the candidate they are “de facto” selecting the MP. I’m not sure how many people do this but a look at tonight’s results from the St Alban’s Conservatives’ reselection of MP Anne Main MP shows the problem – 144 votes to 20.
A grand total of 164 people potentially deciding the next MP – although the sheer absurdity of that may well ultimately decide that they do not.
It’s also clear that there are other things that may need to change. If we accept Hannan’s figure that 70% of seats are effectively “safe” – then that means that approximately 35% of the electorate – those who vote against the “safe” candidate – have no say whatsoever in the make up of parliament.
Ironically the voters for the safe candidate are also likely to have less say than other constituencies in who represents them – since they are more likely to have candidates from outside the area “parachuted” (why do they always use that word ?) in order to ensure that those likely to hold ministerial office are more likely to be elected.
So in theory primaries seem like a good idea – open up the contest, and make the selection of candidates more responsive to local electorates. I can see that – it makes sense, and I can see also that there are ways of limiting the expense – holding the polls on the same day – limiting the publicity that candidates are allowed to present, and there needn’t really be any need for pre-registering. It would seem that if all parties have their primaries on the same day, then you turn up on the day, give your number, and are given 3 ballot papers (maybe more) – of which you must return only one – you choose which to return.
I can see how this can work. There are however, so many imponderables :
If you did a primary like this and published the results you’d have a dry run for the election – an opinion poll to end all opinion polls because it would have the support of the returning officer. This WILL affect the real election.
The issue of when to have primaries will also affect the issue of when to have elections – because you will have to have primaries in good time before an election. This effectively means an end to the incumbent party deciding when to have an election – it means fixed term parliaments. Which presumably also means shorter terms – perhaps three years.
All of which is achievable if the will is there.
I’m not certain that the will really is there though, because for primaries to really deliver it will take a radical reshaping of the mode of Government we have. There won’t be the possibility of placing top candidates in safe seats anymore. So how will you decide cabinet posts ?– how will you ensure that the party leader gets a seat ?, or the deputy ?
Well these are things that I don’t know – but I’d suggest that it will need a transformation of the electoral system – Local MP’s being selected by primaries, but also MP’s selected proportionally to a list – by ballot of party members. This would allow for key candidates – the leader & potential cabinet members to be allocated top places in the list, and for lower places to go to candidates who preferred to go for selection to a list rather than locally – giving members in seats that are safe for opposing parties a chance at running for parliament, and voters in those constituencies a chance to elect someone in the party they vote for.
All in all quite a set of changes – and these are the ones just off the top of MY head – I’m sure that some of the political theory wonks have got all this stuff just waiting to trot out. I’ll be reading with interest.
But for now – my opinion is : Primaries – Yes ! – but only with accompanying radical electoral reform, and only with a dramatic shift in the collective will of the governing parties.
With the state of politics as it is now though this could be the only time to push through something as radical and new as this – and if Gordon Brown is to lead Labour to election victory, then embracing electoral reform, and making a real difference to the way politicians represent the people may just be the only way he will achieve that.