Archive for March, 2010

On open primaries

Written by Mike on . Posted in Articles, Labour

arguing-the-world

Over at Labour-Uncut, a new blog launched by former Labour MP Sion Simon, a counter-debate is opening on the future direction of the Labour party (and wider, the British Left).

The siren voices of the left are calling, and party members seem to be sleepwalking into a position where Labour retreats from the center-ground of British politics. It’s not hard to see why—with the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties firmly encamped upon the mythical “center” of the British political spectrum, there is little space for the official opposition.

John McTernon, Tony Blair’s political secretary, and Benjamin Wegg-Prosser the Director of Strategic Communications for Blair, argue here and here that such a move would condemn Labour to another long spell in opposition.

McTernon says a fascinating thing:

We lost, not amongst the 29% who voted Labour or (generously) the 10% of voters who pay the levy or join the party. We lost among the middle-ground decent folk of Britain. If we were serious we’d let voters in Brighton, Redditch and Redcar choose our next leader.

Sadly, he doesn’t follow his brave thought through to its logical conclusion: the open primary. Labour’s membership is sensible but narrow. The Electoral College is comprised of one third MPs, one third party members, with the final third given to the trade unions. A series of primaries, across the country, would give ordinary people the opportunity to participate in a debate that is much-needed: What sort of Labour party do the British people want?

The other problem with relying on our membership is that it feels like time for a counter-revolution. Thirteen years of power have been hard work and challenging. Personally, I’ve felt deeply uncomfortable about a knee-jerk authoritarianism on civil liberties. Opposition on the other hand is comfortable. We could end up tearing up popular policy positions in search of a new identity—the cult of a “new politics“—that leads us to mirror the existing administration or hold contrary views for their own sake. Without a grounding in public opinion we could repeat this exercise for some time.

The Tories picked Cameron because they were desperate for power. They knew they had to compromise their narrow agenda for a broad platform fit for a government. We need a similarly broad agenda. This can only come from an intelligent debate within Labour but also a serious engagement with the electorate. To do this, selecting our next leader and their platform in a series of open primaries is a necessity.

Progress has a written consultation on open primaries here.

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