I’m not instinctively opposed to the idea of using primaries to select candidates – and I do think we need to be looking at ways to open up the internal processes of political parties more – but since Open Up launched their campaign for everyone to have primaries, there have been some interesting responses from James Graham and Stuart Bruce that are definitely worth reading.
I’m always wary of people who claim that adopting one big idea will solve every problem through unspecified means – though I may have been guilty of suggesting that myself in the past with STV – but I really don’t that Open Up have thought through the consequences of primaries. As Stuart points out, introducing primaries increases the cost of being involved in politics for candidates and makes them more reliant on whoever pays for their campaigns, but it would also fundamentally change the nature of political campaigning in this country. Why join a party and get involved in it, when you get no extra say in the most important decisions the party makes than anyone who didn’t join and sat at home watching EastEnders while you were out knocking on doors in the rain?
One of the things I noticed about the Bedford Mayoral by-election was that the Conservative ‘Open Primary’ (or open caucus, as it’s better described) was a success – it got media attention, it got a lot of people along to the meeting and taking part in candidate selection, many of whom would probably never have considered themselves Conservatives – but the electoral campaign that followed it was a failure because the caucus system made existing activists think that they weren’t valued and their voice didn’t matter, and failed to recruit new ones to take their place. Now, this may not sound like a bad thing to you, but repeat the process enough over enough constituencies and the parties are going to end up as little more than shells, with elections dominated by the candidates who can afford to pay for the most direct mail and phone canvassing.
Still, while I think there are flaws in Open Up’s ideas, they are actually generating some debate and discussion. While looking round at articles about it this morning, I found something that’s in a whole new level of barking on OurKingdom. I can’t quite capture the full weirdness of the proposal – it seems to be a Green-tinged version of Soviet democracy, with added ‘political parties that I don’t like are evil and should be banned for the sake of democracy’ nuttiness – but it’s worth reading just to see what bizarre systems people can create if they have too much time and too many grudges.
(And for one final point, does the name ‘OurKingdom’ bug anyone else? Not the CamelCase naming, just the fact that a Kingdom, by definition, cannot be ‘ours’.)