There is a new campaign called "Open Up" which was launched a couple of days ago and seeks to get all parties to run open primaries in order to select their parliamentary candidates.
James Graham has already done an excellent job of pointing out how expensive all of this would be on his blog so I won't go through that here except to say that I completely agree with him.
James also makes another point which I want to elaborate on:
I worry because the anti-politics rhetoric that is informing this campaign (and others) is leading people up the garden path. Instead of embracing the opportunity to shout loudly for pluralist politics and for moving beyond politics meaning little more than voting every few years, people are grasping at ideas that don’t even amount to half measures.
This sums up my main concern about this campaign. There are huge problems with our politics in this country. The expenses scandal is but one small facet of a multifarious group of issues that we will ultimately need to tackle. People feel disconnected from politics and politicians. This happens for various reasons one of the most important being that politicians all try and crowd onto the narrow centre-ground in order to attract the very small number of floating voters in marginal constituencies. Anything that could be perceived as jeapordising the votes of these few hundred thousand people is beyond the pale. We see this happen time and again at every election and it constricts the flow of ideas and debate to the point where people struggle to tell the difference between the parties much of the time.
Aside from all the logistical problems with open primaries, they will not solve this basic problem. The candidates for the seats will all still come from the same parties and the safe seats and marginals will all still be there. James is right to describe this as not even a half measure. I'm not even sure it is a quarter-measure.
What is does do however is allow people like David Cameron to look as if they are grasping the reform nettle and doing something about it. The truth is that Cameron wants to do as little as he thinks he can get away with whilst putting maximum spin on the paltry measures he has taken. It is clear that he will never implement any sort of radical political reform. In a way I can't really blame him. If he just sits tight and waits for a few more months, he will likely be Prime Minister with a decent (perhaps very large) majority and the chance to be Prime Minister for 5 years, possibly even a decade or more. He will not want to do anything that might introduce a more pluralist element into our politics and heaven forfend actually have to win the argument on something before being able to legislate on it.
Just because Mr Cameron will not want to put his considerable prize at risk however does not mean that the rest of us should fall into line. Anyone backing the "Open Up" campaign should be aware that if it succeeds it will make arguing for meaningful political and electoral reform that much more difficult. There is a big risk that many will feel that reform has been "done" and we could find our arguments are heard even less.
I feel very strongly that the current political climate is the best opportunity we will have in this political generation for electoral reformers to get our voices heard. We should not allow this to be derailed by measures that are at best tinkering at the margins.