Primary Colours – Red, Yellow and Blue


by Shariq
27th June, 2008 at 12:08 am    

At yesterday’s Liberal Conspiracy Blog Nation event there was a lot of disagreement on a whole range of issues. One relatively uncontroversial topic was the need for greater activism at a grassroots and local government level.

My proposal – primary elections to help choose Prospective Parliamentary Candidates.

Currently PPC’s are mainly selected by members of the local chapter of the political party. Occasionally the party leadership will decide to ‘parachute in’ a candidate they like to get them into parliament, but lets ignore that for the time being.

I could see the sense of local selection at a time when communities were more stable and rooted. However in modern Britain where the workforce is incredibly mobile and people don’t stay in one city let alone one borough for all their lives, it is anachronistic and more importantly undemocratic, that a small band of essentially unaccountable people wield so much power.

Primaries could energise the political process in a number of ways;

1) Local people could decide what type of mp represents them. The extreme whipping of mp’s is a big problem and being able to hold them to account for how they vote would encourage them to be more independent.

2) The Oona King/George Galloway contest was essentially a glorified primary. Unfortunately, partly because it involved a split within the party it became a lot nastier than it needed to be. Primaries would allow disagreements while holding on to a broader party unity.

3) Following on from point 2, I think this would mean that left-wing political parties would be able to form a larger political tent rather than getting stuck up on dated talking points such as old labour v new labour.

4) It would help get rid of some of the hand-wringing over who should be selected; a-lists, all-women shortlists, ali meraj and other similar controversies would be minimized. I don’t think that Britain in the 21st century is a fundamentally racist society. In a fair election, the chances are that the most skilled politician (defining politician in a good way e.g. Barack Obama) would come through irrespective of identity. In the current system I get the feeling that the person who is best at navigating the much messier world of internal politics are the ones who are successful.

I’m sure there’s more but for now I’d conclude by saying that i think that the current selection policies are outdated and need a radical overhaul. Meanwhile primaries would be a really interesting way in helping to positively define what parties actually believe, in rather than what they think in comparison to the other two parties.


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  1. Letters From A Tory — on 27th June, 2008 at 10:11 am  

    Where have you been? The Conservatives have used primaries to select many of their current PPCs.

    http://lettersfromatory.wordpress.com

  2. The Wilted Rose — on 27th June, 2008 at 10:57 am  

    I agree that open primaries work brilliantly. Last February, I went to the Conservative open primary in Wolverhampton S.W. which was packed with about five hundred local voters (including hundreds of local South Asian residents, who don’t normally vote Conservative).

    The blue rinse brigade favoured the country gentleman from Shropshire, but I and hundreds of other residents overwhelmingly voted in Paul Uppal, who made the best speech (and answers to questions on the night) will make an excellent MP – and Wolverhampton’s first South Asian MP. Had it not been for the open primary, we would have ended up with the country gentleman!

  3. tim — on 27th June, 2008 at 11:57 am  

    2) The Oona King/George Galloway contest was essentially a glorified primary. Unfortunately, partly because it involved a split within the party it became a lot nastier than it needed to be. Primaries would allow disagreements while holding on to a broader party unity.

    How was it a split within the Labour Party.

    Galloway had been expelled 2 years earlier.

  4. MatGB — on 30th June, 2008 at 3:22 pm  

    I could see the sense of local selection at a time when communities were more stable and rooted. However in modern Britain where the workforce is incredibly mobile and people don’t stay in one city let alone one borough for all their lives,

    So, getting this straight, one of your principle arguments against the current system is that it’s localised and local selection isn’t relevent due to mobility? Notwithstanding the fact that I’ve moved constituency, 5 times, county three times and end of the country twice in the last 5 years, I think that argument is flawed—I’ve settled in quickly and got involved with each community I’ve moved to, local issues matter a lot to most people, even transients, and sometimes the least likely to take a problem into account are those that have been there the longest.

    But taking this supposed problem into account, your solution is to replace local selection with, um, local selection? Have I missed something or is this point completely irrelevent?

    it is anachronistic and more importantly undemocratic

    You also seem to show no understanding whatsoever of how primaries work in the US, nor of how parties in the UK actually select.

    In the US, party membership isn’t as important as it is over here, the large parties receive federal funding to cover their running costs (but not campaigning costs), thus instead of being membership organisations anyone is entitled to register as a party member. Over here, the parties are reliant on money from members to cover basic costs, thus are constituented and run as membership organisations.

    In the US, most primaries only allow you to vote if you’re registered for that party (ie a party ‘member’). In the UK, parties have different systems, but the Tories use a primary system of sorts, or alternatively a membership ballot, the Lib Dems ballot all local members (cost of joining a whole £10 per year, less if you’re a claimant) and Labour use a mixture of full members and union members and combining the ballots in some way I’ve never really bothered to learn.

    , that a small band of essentially unaccountable people wield so much power.

    Um, you mean the local members of the party vote in a ballot—who should they be accountable to? Anyone can join their local party, and I don’t want to have to justify who I vote for in a ballot if I don’t want to.

    If you want better choice of candidates and a more representative Parlt, looking to the US for inspiration really isn’t the way I’d choose, they’re worse than us on that score. The best way to give voters better choice would be to bad the Irish system of multi-member STV, as now used in Scottish local elections, where parties are encouraged to put up more than one candidate each and a diverse range of candidates rewards the party.

    This answers each of your 4 points better than primaries do.

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