Today I attended the fringe event jointly organised by Progress and the Institute for Government on whether we should have primaries to select Labour parliamentary candidates.
In the pro camp on the panel was Tottenham MP David Lammy, who said primaries were a good way of engaging with a wider number of voters which supports the aims of Refounding Labour. He mentioned that the Tories had selected 100 candidates through primaries and as a result had a more diverse number of MPs, including a higher number from the BME community.
In the sceptical corner NEC member (speaking in personal capacity) Luke Akhurst who said they were superficially attractive but had hidden dangers. First, the cost would disenfranchise many potential candidates who didn’t have large political machines behind them. An example he gave was that the Totnes selection for the Conservative candidate at the last election cost £40,000. Luke said that the potential cost could be better spent on hiring more constituency organisers. He also highlighted the problem of disincentivising supporters to become members as well as certain groups that sat outside the party getting their candidates selected who were were not of the mainstream eg the Tea Party in the United States selecting extremist candidates who lost in the general election against their Democratic opponents.
The other two members of the panel, Islington councillor Jessica Asato and IPPR associate director Will Straw picked up the pro arguments for primaries, saying that involving registered supporters would give the party good data on where their support was. Also introducing primaries would be very timely now that Labour would likely have to select candidates for candidates for local authority mayors and police commissioners.
In the Q & A, sentiments were expressed both in favour and against where issues liking the capping of money and time for parliamentary selections to allow candidates from non-political professions to stand, as well as sitting Labour MPs giving enough notice to local parties on whether they intended to stand down to allow them to run a fair and transparent selection process. Some in the audience did suggest piloting some closed primaries (allowing members and registered supporters to vote) for local authority candidates.
Personally I am sceptical where I feel the priority is to allow members who don’t work in politics or don’t have the finances to take months off end the opportunity to stand as Labour parliamentary candidates in winnable seats. I feel if we had candidates which look and sounded like the wider electorate would ensure greater success at the ballot box and a better chance of returning a Labour government.
Jonathan Slater was Labour parliamentary candidate for Aldershot in 2010
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