Will the chair of the Bedford primary win his own?
As many of you will know, this afternoon the Tories in Bracknell will select a candidate to replace Andrew MacKay, and given the majority exceeded 12,000 votes in 2005 I think it is fair to say they are probably choosing the next MP. This is one of five such contests taking place this weekend using what’s described as An Open Primary (strictly speaking a caucus) whereby people who live in Bracknell (and have registered) but are not members of the party will be invited to help choose the candidate.
These come the day after the same process failed to secure victory in the Bedford Mayoral race won – an event, that was chaired by one of the Bracknell hopefuls, Iain Dale . The argument that open primaries would produce candidates more likely to win has yet to be borne out in practice, and I wonder how long and how far the party will persevere with its experiment.
I thought Mike made a strong case for comparing Open primaries to Labour’s All-Women Shortlists. Though I strongly support the former and abhor the latter, both have the tendency of bypassing and thus slighting hardworking local activists upon whom the weight of campaigning relies at election time. Open primaries might involve more people in the process (which is commonly thought to be a good thing) but if it upsets the people who will do the most work to get that candidate elected (and if the new recruits are less keen or less experienced) then the net effect on practical support could be unclear.
Labour managed to lose one of its safest seats, Blaenau Gwent, to an Independent because of AWS – I don’t think that would happen in Bracknell whomever they selected, and open primaries do not seem, Bedford aside, to be causing as much dissent as AWS did, but it is worth reflecting that in a seat much more marginal than Bracknell there is a risk.
The other totemic aspect is that they seem to be a palliative solution to MPs resigning/stepping down over expenses – whether they are used at the General Election after next will remain to be seen.
I still think the proces provides better candidates, and a better sense of democratic accountability, but I would be surprised if we saw non-safe seats risked again before the General Election.
It will be interesting to see whether the average swing of those selected in this way compares with the national average.
I can’t pretend to be neutral – I’ve just edited with Iain my first book (including a chapter from Our Genial Host) – but think that whichever of the strong field is chosen, that they will enjoy a different type of legitimacy to those given safe seats by a smoke-filled room. That may not be enough to save the Open Primary if it costs the party expected gains, but it might just allow it to live on in the safe seats. I certainly hope so.
Greg Callus (AKA Morus)
UPDATE 19:22 – Dr Phillip Lee has been chosen as the Conservative candidate in Bracknell, beating Rory Stewart in the final round. Iain Dale came third in the selection.