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Falkirk just a symptom…

July 7, 2013

The row over Labour candidate selection in Falkirk is just a symptom of our 19th century party system. I am somewhat mystified by the Prime Minister’s jibes about disunity in the Labour party. It seems the Labour party has a problem, but why should Conservatives be concerned? Doesn’t Labour’s disarray help them? Surely this is a matter for the Labour Party, and the Labour Party alone. In any case why shouldn’t the Unions have more influence on the Labour Party? The main parties at Westminster are already more influenced by corporate and banking lobbying than they are by voters. Since too many people (including journalists) are influenced (without being aware of it) by right wing propaganda peddled by the mainstream national media, someone needs to represent their interests.

If Britain really were the democracy politicians claim it to be, people would be able to vote for candidates who do not buy into the current economic orthodoxy, for which there is no supporting evidence that I am aware of. This is difficult if no such candidates present themselves.

In 2009 the Conservatives experimented in two constituencies with open primaries in which all registered voters were able to vote for one several candidates put forward by the local party. In the first of these in Totnes, there was an impressive 25% turnout and the clear winner was local GP Dr Sarah Wollaston (now the MP) who had no previous political experience. In spite of the apparent success of this exercise, the Conservative Party seems to have dropped the idea of extending the scheme(1). The cost of the exercise has been quoted as the reason (postal ballots were send to every registered voter) but Dr Wollaston claims cheaper means could have been adopted. According to the Telegraph, Dr Sarah Wollaston, the MP for Totnes, said that she believed that Downing Street had shelved the idea of open primaries over fears that they may favour “outspoken” candidates. She has also been quoted as saying that Mr Cameron’s inner circle “ignore” MPs who do not agree with the Government in order to “send a message” to backbenchers. In other words the party leadership is terrified by the idea of MPs showing any independence of thought.

It is doubtless because party machines are so determined to hold onto all the power that in May 2011, a very effective but also very negative campaign, was run to convince people not to support the Alternative Vote system (otherwise known as ‘instant runoff’ voting). Under this system you would in effect have a primary and a final election all in one go. The Alternative Vote would in theory surely help solve Labour’s problems if only they could see it. However I say in theory because this would only work if parties entered into the spirit of things and offered voters a choice. What has happened to the Conservative idea of open primaries tends to confirm they would not, and I would not expect Labour to behave any differently. By far the best system is Single Transferable Vote which not only offers voters a real choice in theory but also incentivises parties to put forward more candidates for a multimember constituency than the number of seats they think they can win. The major parties will fight tooth and nail to avoid having to do this this, but why should MPs be allowed to decide how they are elected, any more than what they are paid? Why do we let them?”

(1)  16 June 2013.

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