Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Conservatives deny Bracknell local choice in "Open" primary

In the last few months, many Conservative supporters and bloggers have been singing the praises of open primaries. They see this as a way of trying to ensure that seats, even potentially safe seats are at the very least openly contested at the candidates stage which should improve democracy.

I am quite dubious about the benefits of open primaries, not least because they sound like reform without in my view delivering real reform. A change to multi-member seats using a transferable vote system would be a better reform in my view and allow the electorate to make their choice from a wider field as part of the actual election.

Despite my misgivings, I was however intrigued to learn that in my own constituency of Bracknell, the Conservatives have decided to hold an open primary* to select their candidate to replace the current MP Andrew MacKay. For those who aren't aware, Mr MacKay was forced to announce he was standing down at the next election back in May as a result of the MP expenses scandal.

I have already done a post on Bracknell Blog about my surprise that local Tory council leader Paul Bettison has not been shortlisted for the primary. I am even more surprised to learn now that the shortlist has been released that there are actually no local candidates at all on the shortlist of 7.

This seems bizarre to me. Are the Tories saying that there are no local candidates of a high enough calibre to be on the list? Mr Bettison clearly wanted to be on the shortlist (see this article from the "Get Bracknell" website just a few weeks back) and I suspect others from the local party would have liked to have been too. I understand that in any process like this the candidates have to be whittled down but I am curious to know what sort of process they use for this that has led to no local representation on the shortlist.

The recent Totnes open primary which was held up by the Conservatives as a great example actually had three local candidates in the final vote.

Why is Bracknell being denied a similar choice?

* To be strictly correct, what the Conservatives are holding in Bracknell is actually an open caucus as Douglas Carswell MP has already pointed out, although everyone else seems to be referring to it as a primary.


Anonymous said...

Bizarre indeed. Cameron pays much lip service to localism so surely, local candidates would be a must!

Why don't you try to obtain an interview with him - your being a Bracknell resident?

Letters From A Tory said...

"In the last few months, many Conservative supporters and bloggers have been singing the praises of open primaries."

Thankfully, I'm not part of that little clique.

Nick said...

Maybe you should start a Lib Dems for Dale group, in the hope he can emulate the success of his campaign in Norfolk North last time!

JR said...

Any reason why you've used the Scottish Conservatives logo? :-)

Mark Thompson said...

I didn't know it was the Scottish one! I just found it on Google images.

What do you think about the substance of the post though?

Unknown said...

As former Vice Chairman of North Norfolk Lib Dems and a former Lib Dem councillor in North Norfolk, I know as much as anyone about Iain's campaign there in 2005.

He lost for one reason and that is the strength of the Lib Dem campaigning team in North Norfolk led by Norman Lamb.

Iain was on a hiding to nothing and I think he did the decent thing by staying on to fight in North Norfolk when his political future would have been better served by standing down quickly when he saw what a parlous state the local Tories were in.

He fought a first rate campaign but did not stand a chance against Norman Lamb.

I wish Iain Dale good luck in his attempts to get selected by the Tories.

Richard Gadsden said...

This is why these aren't primaries or caucuses. Those are open to anyone who wants to be the candidate.

The whole strength of the American system is that people who would never have passed "approval" here in the UK can become candidates over there. Attaching a vote to the end of the approval/shortlisting process does not make it a primary in the American sense of the word.

Mark Thompson said...

That's an interesting point Richard. I must bone up on the full details of how this all works in the US some time but something certainly seems flawed with the way the Conservatives are trying to do it here in Bracknell.

Mark Pack said...

I think you'll find Douglas Carswell isn't the only one making the caucus point :-)

Mark Thompson said...

Oops. Hadn't spotted that one!

Dingdongalistic said...

There's a huge difference between primaries as done over here by the Conservative party, and as done in the US.

This is because in the US there is no formal central party control in the same way there is over here. There is party leadership of a kind, but it's generally informal arrangements (IE who the most influential figures are), and becoming involved in the party isn't a "registration and payment" process. This means that technically, the field of who can stand in a primary is far bigger than who could stand in the primary the Conservatives put on in Totnes (although in the US you'd need to be influential within the party and have a very well funded campaign to stand any chance of winning, of course).

Of course, when it comes to open Caucuses, the Conservatives have been doing those for longer than they have primaries -- the experiment in Totnes was genuinely something different, although as I've said, the party arrangements are tighter than they are in the US.

Dingdongalistic said...

The other problem is that if you want to prevent the type of problems present in the American system from occuring (IE hugely expensive campaigns, which vastly skew the playing field of who has the opportunity to participate), then you face one of two options:

a) State funding of primary campaigns, with tight funding rules.

b) Party funding of primary campaigns, with tight funding rules.

The latter of which requires registration and centralisation of the primary campaign process, which goes against the spirit of the US system, and the former of which requires State funding of political parties, something I'm not sure the Tories would be so sympathetic to.