“regional assemblies would build even more layers of government and add barriers between the electorate and leadership”
Now that we’ve failed to dump the Scots, our craven politicians are conjuring up crackpot schemes to devolve power or shakeup the constitution. Let me suggest a way to make sure that the current system works better with politicians forced to come closer to their voters; primary elections. This would make MPs more accountable, without destroying what is a basically a sound system.
Clearly this is not an original idea; the Americans use it. But the great thing about primaries, (and not the useless “primary lite” suggested by Prime Minister David Cameron) is they force accountability which clearly doesn’t happen under our current system.
My idea would make sure that we don’t throw the baby, our current failing but basically democratic system, out with the bath water.
The current system is crippled by athe centralized power of both Conservative and Labour Parties dictating which people are eligible to be candidates. Parties can force a narrow range of candidates on to its constituencies, where a small group of committee members then vote on their preferred one. They all would hold more allegiance to Central Office than the constituency. There is absolutely no room for a local maverick candidate, or one who might be motivated by local issues. They are all likely to be non-locals. With a primary election, open to all members of particular parties, there would be a preliminary campaign and election. Primaries would make sure sitting members accounted to their constituents for their performance, and allow an upfront challenge from any party member wishing to challenge. If they were in doubt over which way to vote on an issue in Parliament, they would be more frightened of their primary electorate than the party whips
Arundel and South Downs
In my own constituency of Arundel and South Downs, when Nick Herbert was adopted as a candidate, there was one meeting of all the members. The small group of preferred candidates selected behind closed doors were paraded, and had maybe 15 minutes to tell us why they should be the candidate. Then a vote. In this case, the local party was seeking a new member, the previous incumbent wasn’t running again. But if he had been running, the adoption would have simply been behind closed doors and with a seat like Arundel, the MP is likely to be there for life. Herbert has been re-selected again with no accountability at all.
OK, so it means having to vote twice and it would cost a bit more money, but surely that is a small price to pay for the accountability we crave.
As for Cameron’s idea of an open primary, it sounds good, but in fact would have exactly the opposite impact if you want more accountability. If there was a primary election open to all, the candidates would inevitably have to appeal to both sides of the political argument, and that would result in the adoption of bland, boring, hand-wringers on all sides. Why am I thinking Nick Clegg as I write this? This would be unlikely to result in a bunch of fiery, opinionated candidates fighting for liberty, justice and the A27.
Hold them to account
If MPs were adopted in this way, the second part of my idea would become more likely.
This involves making Parliament do what it was originally designed to do – hold the executive to account. At the moment it can’t possibly do this because the executive/government is made up of a majority of MPs. We have to move to a new system where government members can’t be MPs. They would have to resign their seats to take up government posts. You can see where this is going. If our system was more like the U.S., it would inevitably mean the adoption of a President, with parliament and committees – like U.S. Congressional ones – holding government to account.
But this would happen way down the road, and might not be necessary if primaries have the desired effect.
Let’s shake up the system first with primary elections to achieve a more accountable and open system. Let’s forget all this panic talk of regional assemblies and their unintended consequences. They would be much more expensive and bureaucratic and build even more layers of government and add more barriers between the electorate and leadership.