What happened to open primaries?

The death of the Labour Member of Parliament Alan Keen has prompted a by-election in London. Why are the Tories not leaving it up to the people to decide?

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Confused, Dave? So are we...
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Raheem Kassam
On 25 November 2011 11:25

You must remember. The fanfare, the fist pumping, the feeling that ‘things can only get better’. No, this wasn’t 1997, this was 2009.

Gordon Brown had bottled a General Election and the Tories were riding the crest of a wave. Women supported them, youngsters supported them and environmental activists were thinking of ‘voting blue and going green’.

One other flagship policy from the Tories, designed to win over the direct democrats and libertarians, was that of open primaries, a system commonly used in the United States whereby the local residents, not just party members, get to choose their candidates for their constituencies, rather than having party pole-climbers parachuted in.

“Great!” We thought. We can fully support this: a system that delivers talented representatives and in some cases, whistle-blowers for bad behavior. The opposition ostensibly followed suit.

Alas now in government, the Tories seem to have put all this democracy nonsense behind them. Well, unless you’re Libyan.

In May this year, Michael Crick reported that the Prime Minister was so infuriated by one of his primary candidate successes rebelling against the government that he said it was the last time the Tories would conduct that experiment. Like toys out of a pram.

Now, in the Feltham and Heston by-election, Cameron is taking no chances. Recently having been embarrassed on a massive scale by his backbenchers, Cameron obviously doesn’t want another ‘rogue’ (or what you and I might call an actual conservative) on his hands.

Mark Bowen, a man who all but gave up in advance of the General Election 2010 has been selected by the party hierarchy to challenge the seat. Aspiring candidates were not only given no explanation, but told to fall in line or face the consequences (not in those words exactly, but you get the drift). Critics will argue 'there's not enough time for a primary'. But with Labour set to announce their candidate on Sunday, there is no reason the Tories couldn't have placed ads in local papers to announce a Saturday or Sunday open primary to be held at a local venue.

Even more embarrassing for the Tories is that the UKIP candidate, highly likely to steal more than the 992 conservative votes that Jerry Shadbolt took in 2010, is none other than former Tory candidate for Edmonton, Andrew Charalambous.

The businessman and barrister is also the founder of ‘Surya’, the world’s first eco-nightclub which hosted the official ‘Conservative Future’ party in November 2010. Activists may be confused as to whether to campaign for Cameron, who delivered them government, or for Charalambous, who delivered them… booze.

One may wonder if the young party activists who championed the notion of open primaries going into the General Election would have something to say about this.

If the e-mail from Conservative Campaign HQ is anything to go by, I’d say probably not. After all, Conservative Future hardly has the best history of elections. The turnout at the last CF nationals was an humiliating 0.86%. Not really a mandate… just like Dave.

Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator and served on the Conservative Future National Executive in 2009. He tweets at @RaheemJKassam.

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