Be honest: how many of you vote at for the best candidate at election time? The truth is that Presidential-style politics has become a permanent fixture in British politics, and one which has meant we generally vote for parties and party leaders, rather than the individual candidates themselves.
This is sad and destructive. It has led to the type of tribal voting in what are known as ‘Labour or Conservative areas’ that allows party leaders to put a blindly loyal puppet into a safe seat. They then spend the next few years voting in favour of their career and promotion, rather than their constituents and conscience. Morally, it’s pretty repugnant. It goes against much of what democracy is supposed to be about, too. Representation, rather than self-promotion.
This type of practise isn’t going to end any time soon, it seems. In 2009, the Conservatives experimented with an open primary in Totnes. Every voter in the constituency received a postal vote as to who the Tory candidate should be and Dr Sarah Wollaston won the ballot. It was a fascinating experiment that produce a predictable result: an independently-minded candidate who promised to champion local people and local issues won out.
The excitement produced off the back of this saw predictions that this was the way forward. By involving all voters in the selection of a party candidate, therefore franchising local people and empowering them to be involved in the process, it gave the party a clear line of engagement with the public. How could you argue against that?
Well fast forward to 2013 and you see that, well, Dr Wollaston’s independent mind hasn’t exactly been welcomed by those running the Tory Party. They don’t like the way in which she isn’t slavishly partisan, but instead - get this – dares to criticise decisions of the party leader when she disagrees with them. Blasphemy in the corridors of power.
The result of this crime of conscience is that radical plans to roll out open primaries across the country are all but dead. The truth is, very few in Westminster at the moment wish to bring about the type of democratic revolution required in Britain. Politicians moan about turnout and say they try hard to engage the public, but when something like open primaries exists it is shown to be a little too democratic.
The vast majority of Labour and Conservative MPs are careerists who vote whichever way the whips tell them. That’s how the system works. It’s about self-preservation and represents a system that seeks to minimise rather than maximise input from the public. When you look at such cases, it is hardly surprising that the public feel ignored, angry and unrepresented. They have a right to be.