Minister backs "primaries"

Now, we're not often in favour of anything that aims to make Britain more like the USA because it's very obvious that we have a far better way of doing things over here - for example: no death penalty, TV that's only 98% rubbish, ginger beer, Marmite, real cheese instead of yellowish stuff in an aerosol can and so on; while they have corndogs, the KKK, Kid Rock and Sarah Palin. No contest really, is there?

David Miliband. Despite appearances, he is not in fact 13 years old and is fully eligible to act as Foreign Secretary.
Copyright-free image from Wikipedia.

But, every now and again you come across an American idea that seems to make a lot of sense and you can't help but wonder if we ought to copy it (not least of all because everything we copy from them we also make a lot better - ie, rock and roll, techno, graphic novels and...erm...other things). One example is the primary election, whereby constituents get to choose from a list of prospective candidates from each party who will then contest the coming election; instead of only being able to vote for a candidate chosen by the party as is currently the case.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, has come out in favour and praised the US Democrats for the way in which they involve people who are not party members in the decision making process. However, any system which allows non-party members to take such an active role is likely to attract limited support from many politicians as it might lead to a fall in numbers of people who bother to join, a good source of party income: Labour's membership list numbers some 166,247 people, so with current membership renewal fees standing at £19 for the unwaged or £38 for those lucky enough to have hung on to their jobs in Brown's Britain, this equals a minimum of £3,158,693 for the party's coffers even if they all paid the reduced rate (in 1997, membership stood at 405,000 - which would have been £15,390,000). You can be sure of one thing - they ain't gonna be keen on losing over three million quid.

The Conservatives have been playing with the idea, which is unsurprising as they're doing their best to look as different as possible from Labour just so they can appeal to those voters who don't follow politics particularly closely but want to give their support to anyone but Gordon - it's surely significant that the recent "Totnes Primary," in which Tory Dr. Sarah Wollaston was chosen as candidate by the constituents, came so soon after the Norwich North by-election in which Labour's decision to rid themselves of popular MP Ian Gibson proved misguided when the Tory candidate won twice as many votes as the Labour candidate, a disaster for the party which has been partially blamed on Labour supporters choosing not to vote for a party-picked candidate they didn't want.

Neal Lawson, of left-wing group Compass, is not in favour and attacked Mr. Miliband who, we says, is one of those responsible for driving the party "to its death." He added, "This would be the death knell of the party." We can understand Mr. Lawson's wish to keep the party alive, of course - after all, he obviously loves it enough to have allowed it to become a very large and important part of his life.

It would be a little sad to see Labour die - just like it's sad when an elderly relative dies. After all, when it was performing at its best, Labour was undeniably a great institution which achieved an enormous amount in its efforts to improve daily life for a vast percentage of the population. But when you know dear old Great Aunt Maude has been fed up to the back teeth for the last twenty years since her legs gave up the ghost and put her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life, severely limiting her opportunities to go out on the piss with her mates, don't you feel that, despite the sadness of her passing, just a little happier knowing that she's gone to a better place where she'll suffer no longer? Maybe it's time to put Labour out to grass too, let it spend its last few years peacefully dozing in the sun. It might seem unfair that it cannot keep soldiering on forever; but new parties, spawned in response to the new needs of the modern world, will arise with new ways of doing things. That's just the natural order of things.

Whatever. Increasing constituents' participation in this way, by allowing them to choose for themselves who they want to represent them in Parliament, is quite simply more democratic. The cost to any particular party - be it a reduction in funds or even a threat to their very existence - is of very little importance in comparison. Anything that increases democracy and gives citizens more say in the way that their country is run is worthwhile.


  1. Is it democratic?

    I live in a constituency which is a three way marginal – at a stretch even a five way marginal. If every party had these open primaries aren’t all five candidates going to be virtual clones of each other?

    If the same people vote for the same sort of candidate for all five major parties what real choice will be left in a general election?

    Wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the old days where the Labour Party chose socialists to represent them, Tory’s chose Conservatives, Plaid Cymru and the SNP chose Nationalists, Liberals chose people who ware sandals – and we had a choice of opposing political view points to vote on in an election rather than the modern way of every party putting up candidates that appeal to the same focus group?

  2. Croeso Alwyn,

    I came across your own blog while researching this post - impressive stuff. It's also always a pleasure to talk with a fellow Welshman - I'm from Llangollen.

    I can certainly see your point: the only way primaries would work in our favour would be if we all take the opportunity to vote. A "none of the above" option would help, too.

    It would indeed be nice to go back to the old days. Let's hope it happens - I doubt it ever will though. Pity.