Archive for the ‘Primaries & Constituency Culls’ Category

Primaries & Constituency Culls

mercredi, septembre 14th, 2011

Conservative MEP and political blogger Daniel Hannan is a great believer in the benefits of open primaries. He cites the example of MP Sarah Wollaston, the first Conservative candidate to be selected through an open primary, turning down a job as a Parliamentary Private Secretary out of a sense of duty to her constituents, and not her parliamentary Whips! He considers open primaries as the single best way of tilting power from the executive to the legislature, and from party whips to ordinary voters. The introduction of such a reform he says would help to make Parliament more independent, more diverse, more representative and more accountable. He then recalls that the governing Coalition Agreement promised 200 open primary selections and asks when can we expect them?
In fact, it is opportune that proposals to redraw constituency boundaries would reduce the number of sitting MPs from 650 to 600. These proposals will be subject to two years of consultation before being finalized in October 2013, in time for the next general election in 2015. The government says that a smaller House of Commons will lower the cost of politics (a recurrent theme of the Prime Minister) with a quoted saving of £12 million from this measure, while the system will be fairer as each constituency will be more equal in terms of the same number of registered voters. As a result, MPs whose constituencies are set to be effectively abolished will need to find another seat to contest in the run-up to the next general election if they wish to remain in Parliament. In addition, senior politicians and current Cabinet Ministers at risk could be parachuted into safe seats, effectively ousting their erstwhile colleagues.
Perhaps with an excess of some 50+ sitting MPs becoming effectively available as candidates to contest seats, a selection process based on primaries would also be fairer to those losing their seats only as a result of boundary changes? With the major political parties finding it more and more difficult to maintain their numbers and recruit new members, together with low voter turnout and the associated disengagement from the political process, such primaries to select candidates could work to re-engage more people in the political process.
Looking at what happens in the United States for state primaries, each party can set its own calendar and rules although the primary election itself is usually administered by local governments according to state law. In many states, only voters registered with a party may vote in the primary of that party in what is known as a closed primary. Some states practice a semi-closed primary in which voters unaffiliated with a party (Independents) may choose a primary in which to vote. Then there is the open primary where any voter may vote in the primary of any party. The open primary in fact can also improve voter turnout even more e.g. in the case of some government or unionized employees who might not wish their political affiliations to be known. This of course makes it more difficult for the parties to gather data on individual voters and their voting intentions. However, in all these systems, a voter may participate in only one primary. Taking then the case of an open primary for a constituency in the UK, it could be assumed that a voter who casts a vote for a candidate standing for the Conservative party, cannot also cast a vote for a candidate standing for the Labour party or Liberal Democrat nomination.
Primaries can be seen as a way of measuring popular opinion of candidates rather than the opinion of the local political party or its central office. With less and less voters in the UK affiliated with any political party, perhaps the 200 open primary selections route promised by the Coalition Agreement is the way to go as a fairer way of re-engaging people in the political process. Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, it is not likely to reduce the cost of politics by introducing another level of voting within the political process. Also, as in the United States, the personal wealth of individual candidates can make an important difference between campaigns for popular support. Another drawback is that primaries tend to attract more of the ideologues from the extremes of the political parties meaning that once selected candidates tend to have to modify their campaigns to move towards the more moderate centre in order to get finally elected to office.