I’m very torn about primaries. As I have mentioned (once or twice!) the empowerment of Labour members is something I care deeply about. But it has also become more and more apparent that over the years, that we have a problem in the way our selections are working, and we are trying to open the Labour Party up to our communities in more imaginative ways.
From recent events, what may be clear is that where a CLP is pretty moribund, it is open to a certain amount of manipulation. It is as the spotlight falls on such constituencies that the idea of primaries becomes more attractive.
Empowerment of members is really important in a modern party. These volunteers who keep us going deserve as much say in their party and its policies as possible. But if the members are having their power overtaken by those seeking to manipulate selections – whoever that may be – then they are not being protected by the current system.
I’ve struggled with this, but I think a compromise I would be willing to settle on would be to see primaries run in constituencies that didn’t reach certain membership criteria. So for example, those in special measures, or where the membership did not represent a significant enough proportion (and I realise this would have to be very small to avoid all CLPs being caught) of the Labour vote at the last election (doing it proportionately in this way should stop there being a disparity between Labour held and non-Labour seats and to stop disparities in size of constituency from impacting in the way a system that set a numerical threshold would. It would also account in part for fluctuations in membership as the national party become more or less popular).
All other constituencies should be given the option to choose how they wish to select their candidate. Some may opt for primaries, some may not. If a CLP is active and functional, that should be their choice.
Finally, the imposition of a primary on a struggling CLP should not be the final word on the matter. Primaries can and should be excellent recruiting events for interested non-members. CLPs should use these occasions to sign up more members – new people who feel they have a real stake in the candidate they have just chosen for selection. Just as I want all members of the Party to have active and fulfilling experiences, so too do I want to see the first positive engagement between a local citizen and their local party grow and develop into something more.
These are by no means exhaustive, road tested or even broadly thought through proposals. They are a compromise I have been coming to over quite some time because I have been genuinely torn on this issue. I’m sure I will get much opposition from both sides because most other people who write about primaries have very firm views one way or the other. Me, I’m a natural compromiser. And I think this might just work.