Primed for Change: why we need primaries in the Labour party

October 12, 2009 3:08 pm

Author:

Share this Article

PrimaryBy Alex Smith / @alexsmith1982

On the day that Parliament returns to its duties, Sir Thomas Legg’s letter to over 500 MPs asking them to justify their expense claims or to repay them in full will remind our representatives of the disconnect between the politicians and those they seek to represent.

Yet in spite of the public anger, little has yet been done to change how our democracy functions or to increase people’s involvement in our political process.

Now, a new study carried out by Will Straw and Feni Ajumogobia has shown the need for greater participation in selecting our parliamentary candidates.

At a time when membership of political parties is at its lowest ever point, the report shows that most PPCs across the political parties are selected by an average of just 40 party members.

For some time, I’ve argued in favour of primaries as one way of overcoming this problem. In January, I wrote that we should find ways to “amplify the voices of the electorate” by involving people in the process from an early stage and last month I said:

“I have never felt more involved in a political campaign than in the weeks and months before Super Tuesday. The people I worked alongside in Brooklyn came out to have their voices heard, working tirelessly on cold mornings and bleak nights to influence a process and to shape history from the earliest opportunity. What I saw inspired a movement, and I’ve never seen democracy work better. Labour needs that inspiration now. We need to energise our party, but more importantly than that we need to open our tired structures to the voices of the under-represented. Primaries will not solve everything, but they are the purest way to begin.”

Some have suggested that the call for primaries is based on factionalism within the Labour party, that the Blairite right want to find ways to further diminsh party democracy. I don’t accept that argument. To me, primaries are a way to adapt to a contemporary culture in which people demand the same flexibility and openness of engagement that they find elsewhere. And as one reader of LabourList has noted, I’m no Blairite.

Ken Livingstone and David Lammy have also both come out in favour of primary selections – opening up the possibility that the next Labour candidate for the London mayoralty will be selected that way. It’s a development that I welcome in finding the strongest candidate for our party and putting that person in touch with the electorate early.

As we enter into the last session of this Parliament and move into the general election campaign, and as we develop ways to make politics and democracy more meaningful to those it is meant to sevre, we must consider primaries as one of the most exciting and involving options before us.

I’ll be live tweeting from a Progress event tonight, reporting back on the voices for and against primaries, including Will Straw, David Lammy, Luciana Berger and Chris McLaughlin.

Comments are closed

Latest

  • Comment ‘I would have been angry too’

    ‘I would have been angry too’

    Labour needs to learn to let go, says Jim McMahon in exclusive interview with Liz Kendall and Steve Reed for their new pamphlet with Progress ‘If we had gone into marriage guidance counselling at that point,’ says Jim McMahon of the relationship between Oldham council and its residents two years ago, ‘the counsellor might have said: “Do you know what, it might just be time to part ways”.’ Oldham was not, says the man who has led it since May […]

    Read more →
  • News Majority of LabourList readers agree with statement from left-wing MPs

    Majority of LabourList readers agree with statement from left-wing MPs

    At the start of this week, 15 MPs issued a statement calling for an alternative to Labour’s current deficit reduction plans, a policy that would see the railways returned to public ownership and a more robust collective bargaining powers for workers, including better employment rights in the workplace. These proposals are not Labour policy and it’s unlikely that they will be before the election (or at least the first two won’t make it into the manifesto). But what do LabourList […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Labour’s NHS plans should reflect real life not vague values

    Labour’s NHS plans should reflect real life not vague values

    ‘The frequency of talk about values is matched by a corresponding vagueness of the concept’ a famous German philosopher once wrote. In the run-up to the election, Labour is in danger of speaking with a tone of vague passion when talking about the NHS. We insist we’re the only party that can save this cherished institution, but sound unclear and woolly when interviewers ask what that means in practice. The polls aren’t necessarily on our side. Yes, the public think […]

    Read more →
  • Featured “It’s not a simple thing to fix Britain” – Angela Eagle on Labour’s manifesto

    “It’s not a simple thing to fix Britain” – Angela Eagle on Labour’s manifesto

    Angela Eagle has just been to hospital. Two hospitals to be precise. But fear not LabourList readers, there isn’t anything wrong with the Shadow Leader of the House. Quite the opposite, as Eagle – often stereotyped as dry and reserved, is fizzing with energy. The hospital visits (to London’s St Thomas’s and Guys) were part of a series of “workplace week” visits that she’s been doing as part of the launch of Unions Together’s Manifesto for Change. Manifesto for Change […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Unite donate £1.5 million to Labour’s election campaign – and may donate more

    Unite donate £1.5 million to Labour’s election campaign – and may donate more

    Unite, Labour’s biggest affiliate, have announced that they’re donating £1.5 million to the party’s campaign – and will consider donating further. The news was was made public in a statement from the union’s Executive Council. The union expressed concern that the Tories could be elected on a ‘tide of big business cash, while Labour remains under resourced.’ In July, we reported that the Tories campaign fund was three times bigger than Labour’s and over the summer it emerged the Conservatives had raised millions from private […]

    Read more →