The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

No Primaries Please; We’re British

Posted by The Futility Monster on August 12, 2009 @ 10:21

Primaries can be a bit weird though...

Primaries can be a bit weird though...

Yesterday, blogging MP Tom Harris wrote this post in which he sounded a warning as to what he sees as the potentially dangerous consequence of moving towards a system of open primaries. You know, that thing that the Tories sort-of did when they selected their candidate for Totnes.

Tom’s main concern is that

In a parliamentary system, it’s unsatisfactory (to say the least) for a party leader not to have the majority support of his MPs. Beware the example of Iain Duncan Smith, who became the Tory leader in 2001 on the back of members’ votes, having secured the support of barely a third of his MPs.

Perhaps. Perhaps, not. After all, David Cameron didn’t have the support of a majority of MPs at either stage of the leadership ballot. And – who knows – the next Labour leadership election may see a winner crowned without majority support of MPs by virtue of the workings of the electoral college. Certainly, in the last Labour deputy leadership election, Harriet Harman didn’t command the support of a plurality (never mind a majority) of MPs; that prize instead going to Alan Johnson.

So, while I accept that a certain level of support in the Parliamentary party is important, all of our parties now operate in a democratic fashion, giving members the final say. It is inevitable that at times the members are going to pick someone the party doesn’t like; such is the nature of democracy. But if a party gets divorced from the views of its members, then it deserves all the consequences that flow from it.

The only other subtle criticism in the post is the idea that if we select all MPs by open primaries, then why not party leaders? The reason is fairly simple: this is supposed to be a Parliamentary democracy. All our ideas for reform are attempts to strengthen that system. Not many people advocate a full-blown presidentialisation of the British system.

So selecting MPs by open primaries, but not the party leaders, is consistent with a parliamentary model. We are not directly electing a Prime Minister, but we are voting for a local MP who happens to be a member of a certain party. If we want to influence the leader of that very party… well, it probably doesn’t hurt to ask people to commit to a proper membership before they be allowed to.

Maybe primaries, open or closed, will eventually lead to Tom’s suggested outcome. In truth though, I don’t think it would be a bad thing. With the proper safeguards in a written constitution (if only…) I don’t think we should have anything to fear from greater democracy.

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One Response to “No Primaries Please; We’re British”

  1. We already have constituencies party selecting their MPs. So why do we need primaries?

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