Ducks and open primaries

Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
22 October 2009

I was on Radio 5 Live yesterday on the Simon Mayo spot with the great John Lloyd of QI, Ian Dale and Mark Hanson from Labour List (you can hear the discussion towards the end of the link). We were brought together to discuss the launch of Open Up in a very hot and stuffy studio that seems to have given me the lurgie, so I'll be brief. Lloyd made the duck-u-mentaries that can be seen on the Open Up site. Iain talked about what it was like to take part in an open process at Bracknell - and lose. He has written about it nicely on his blog.

When will the people exercise good judgement? I really hope he gets into the Commons and speaks for England. Iain made the important point that the Tories while being way ahead of the rest in opening up their selection process are really running caucuses. Only at Totness was there a genuine primary where everyone could vote rather than attend a five hour meeting. It cost £40,000 apparently and how many constituency parties have that? The obvious answer is to have them American style, where the public voting system is put at the disposal of parties. But for this to happen six months before an election, say, to give candidates time, there would need to be fixed term parliaments.... something on which I have campaigned alongside Iain after Brown's great October on-and-off (just too humiliating to accept without demanding change). Thus are constitutional changes joined one to another (beware of extreme pain when this is ignored).

I made the point that all initiatives that expressed the extreme disenchantment with the system should be strongly welcomed (I named Power2010 and Unlock Democracy's Constitutional Convention). I particular like Open Up Now's demand that all actual MPs put themselves up for reselection before the next election. Iain said he preferred campaigns that had realisable demands. Lloyd calmly repeated the point that we can do better than having ducks in charge. Mark Hanson was worried that we'd not gather enough support to make it happen. As I'm blowing my own trumpet, my reply (which I'll expand) is that there is now one thing we know for sure. Before 1997 the good and the knowing said changes could never happen and if they did they wouldn't work. Today we know better. Big changes, Scotland, Mayor for London, FoI Act, Human Rights Act, can be implemented and when they are they work. The British people are practical, inventive and when we get rid of the ducks, it works!

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