Wednesday, 14 October 2009

A debate at Labourhome about open primaries

Here's a little exchange I've been having on Labourhome.

LesAbbey says:
October 13, 2009 at 2:45 pm
John Slinger says:

Open primaries would go some way to taking selections out of the hands of party apparatchiks, the unions and powerful backers such as No.10 or former ministers and as such, are an idea that should be explored and acted upon.
No, it takes selection out of the hands of the local party so as to give the London based apparatchiks a better chance. It will give us even more twenty-something careerists.

They would also encourage applicants to seek selection who were keen and able, but for whatever reason had not been willing or able to ingratiate themselves with local or national Labour Party politics. That isn’t to say that people who have worked for the party ought not become MPs, but that all too often such individuals have an unfair advantage due to their ‘contacts.’
Local CLP members have an unfair advantage because they are just that – local members, fighting and living with local problems not just some rich kid looking for a career.

Open selections would also minimise the advantages of those candidates with large amounts of money (or with backers willing to give it to them) to fund increasingly professional campaigns. Short, supervised, open primary campaigns might then allow for the focus of attention to be the ideas and abilities of the candidates in actual meetings or events, at which members of the public could attend and participate.
Again the moment you take the selection away from the local activists it will become money politics. It doesn’t matter how short you keep it. With a CLP selection, money has very little ability to help in the selection if the candidates stay within the party rules.

We are seeing a concerted attempt by the careerist to mold Labour into an US style political party to their own benefit. They see primaries as a way of overriding local party activists.

John Slinger says:
October 14, 2009 at 10:22 am
Dear Les Abbey,

I too have been a “local member” in various CLPs. I have witnessed, either as a prospective candidate, or a voting CLP member, various selection processes in various CLPs. It’s true that selections often do allow CLP members to engage fully with the candidates in an open and fair process. On other occasions, sadly, this is not the whole story.

It is also not true that better funded candidates do not have an advantage. For example, if a trade union, or another source, funds a candidate even to the tune of a couple of hundred pounds, or provides them with printing facilities, they are at a huge advantage over someone with a full time job and only their evenings free. Our own version of open primaries could and should, like the Tories attempt in Totnes, strictly limit the amount of money spent by candidates on their campaigns.

I don’t think it’s fair either to say that primaries are a plot by New Labour careerists. No matter what the motivation of proponents of primaries, the actual result of bringing them in would surely be to diminish the chances of a careerist being selected. Let’s be honest – if a Special Adviser at No.10 or to a Cabinet Minister currently seeks a safe seat, the current CLP-based selection process in most cases favours them. We all know that candidates have been and are being parachuted into safe of marginal seats, and that very often, and very sadly, some CLPs are reluctant to resist this. This isn’t corrupt, but it is also not fully democratic or open, in the way that I am sure we would all like.

An open primary would force such a ‘para’ candidate into a far more open contest which would test their abilities to engage with ordinary people of all political hues rather than their ability to play the kind of ‘machine’ politics which can still all too often be at work in CLPs during selections.

I do not personally think that open primaries are a panacea. All I am in favour of is that they are given serious consideration by a party which purports to believe in openness and democracy. We ought to have the guts to trial open primaries as have the Tories. Let’s not forget that the CLP would still be able to select the short list. We ought to be communicating better with the electorate at large rather than entrenching a system through which we stare at our own diminishing number of navels. It may not work, but it’s worth a try.

Best wishes,

John Slinger

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