Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The case for open primaries grows stronger by the scandal

Labour’s Unite shenanigans (see today’s Times (£), and comments on Unite and GMB influence over selections here, here (£) and here) have further convinced me (if I ever needed convincing), that open primaries are the best way to ensure we have an open and transparent system when selecting parliamentary candidates. Let’s go the whole hog and have it in place when selecting candidates for local elections too. But let’s start with Westminster and work our way backwards.
Candidates are selected and then fight to become elected representatives. If you’re lucky enough to be fighting in a safe seat, you can be guaranteed to be stuck on the Green Benches for as long as you like. Even complacency or laziness won’t stop you getting re-elected. Electing an MP is a big deal. Everyone with an interest (or without) should be given the chance to have their say.
David Cameron signalled his desire for primaries in opposition. In 2009, he was a strong advocate, describing them as “an exciting opportunity.” The Coalition Agreement vowed:
“We will fund 200 all-postal primaries over this Parliament, targeted at seats which have not changed hands for many years."
But, the election of the outspoken and refreshing newbie in 2010, Dr Sarah Wollaston, via an open primary, has probably seen the government shelve plans for any more. Why? Because it could, heaven help us, lead to more independent-minded MPs.
MPs who dare to criticise their own parties. MPs who believe that their duty first and foremost is to represent their constituents, and not to climb the greasy ministerial poll. MPs who won’t be cowed into silence, or bullied by the whips.
Surely, we should be encouraging such people into politics? Not those who seem to revel in losing all sense of identity once they walk into the Commons.
Here are five reasons why all political parties and the public should embrace open primaries:
1.      An open, transparent and corrupt-free system for all to see. No more closed door hustings where only a couple of hundred party members (if you’re lucky) get to make such an important decision.
2.      Voting open to all (party members, members of other parties, and members of none), would boost overall voter turnout. Knowing they had a say in selecting a candidate (from each party) is a sure fire way of reinvigorating the democratic process.
3.      Challenge the dangerous notion of the safe seat. Candidates would have to work for their votes and not rely on people voting for them simply because other candidates don’t stand a chance of winning.
4.      Someone selected by people from all political backgrounds (and none) would have had to have had broad appeal to win. Rather than just parroting bog-standard party lines, or slamming the opposition without even thinking, they’d have to show they were someone prepared to listen to and take on a wide spectrum of views. This is what representing your constituents actually means.
5.      They would encourage a different sort of candidate to put his/her name forward, which would give us a more diverse system. Diverse in the sense of views, and not just of gender or colour, for example.
The only thing we have to fear from primaries are voters. Lots of them. And that’s a good thing.
This post first appeared on Speaker's Chair on Wednesday 3rd July 2014

No comments:

Post a Comment