Open Primaries – Crap idea

Right, I think I’ve stated my position fair and squarely on this issue then. Let’s get down to business of why?

I’d intended to pen this post but I’ve been pipped to it in many of the aspects I was going to cover by the venerable Luciana Berger over on her new blog who covers the main points well. So in addition to reiterating them I’d like to concentrate more on the dynamics of what would actually go on in such a case.

The argument for open primaries goes something along the lines of it engages the unwashed masses in politics by letting them choose a candidate for a political party as opposed to the opportunity they have at present to actually elect someone to be their MP which they get anyway every 4 or 5 years. So the question is what exactly does this add to the political process? Advocates like David Lammy MP will tell you it’s all about concert hall style speeches the likes of which politicos romanticise about from the 50′s and 60′s. Suddenly all these people who can’t be bothered even voting in elections that determine the future of our schools, hospitals, tax rates, defence, are suddenly going to turn up to listen to people talking ‘at’ them in some big venue and British democracy is suddenly saved from apathy and disengagement.

The other argument that I picked up on today was the statement that it cost nothing to knock on doors which is a lovely quaint idea of the way an open primary system would work but completely lacking the cold hard reality that is politics. We should also note that yes, financially it costs nothing to knock on someone’s door but it does cost time so those who’ve got spare time to indulge their political asperations are straight away at an advantage over the poor buggers of us that have to work long hard hours to feed our kids and pay our mortgages as opposed to, lets say, the independently wealthy.

So are we going to see a massive flood of people suddenly enthused to engage in open primaries? No. The Tories got a 24% turnout for their little headline grabbing stunt which puts in on a par with the turnout you’d expect in a local government by-election which are usually pretty miserable examples of British democratic involvement in action.

Who is it that open primaries actually benefit? I think we can assume it’s not the time poor wage slave average Joe type. Those ‘normal’ people we’re always on about not getting enough of in Parliament. Is it the single mother with two kids living off benefits? Probably not either. The “Party Political” structure isn’t perfect and it too can be criticised for having a middle class bias but if there’s one sure fire way of excluding working class people from entering Parliament then it’s open primaries.

Let’s run through the dynamics of this.

Constituency, let’s call it Walsall North as it’s mine needs to find some candidates for the next election for the three main parties. Barring a by-election loss in the 70′s, Walsall North has been a Labour seat for as far back in time as it’s likely to matter. Odds on, even in a really bad year for Labour, it will return a Labour MP and the majority of seats in the UK rarely change hands under our current voting system which means if you fancy knocking about the corridors of power representing the people of Walsall North, there’s not much point standing for Tories or the little Libdemmers round here.

So pretty much, in a seat like this, it’s all about the Labour open primary and anyone with designs on the seat will be going for the Labour nomination. We’re going to assume there’s some sort of qualifying criteria like actually being a member of the Labour Party and so the only real difference amounts to lots of people choosing the candidate versus local party members. Those lots of people, not necessarily being Labour supporters so we hit our first obstacle. What stops large swathes of voters or an organised operation by another party picking a really crap candidate in an attempt to damage the prospects of that party in a particular seat?

Then we have to address how people put themselves forward and campaign with particular reference to costs involved. Assuming just anyone can put themselves forward then the ballot paper is going to get very long indeed. What is the timescale involved in such a process? This is important because it takes a bit of time to knock on 30-40 odd thousands doors in a constituency after people’s support. Which brings us to the most important element. Campaigning.

If a candidate wishes to obtain, let’s say our hypothetical Labour nomination for Walsall North then they’re not going to knock on everyone’s door because they can’t – at least on their own. Even if the old style concert hall address is being set up then how are people going to know about it to come along? We’re back to the main focus of political campaigning; publicity. Anyone who has ever done campaigning knows it’s not easy and it certainly isn’t cheap. We rightfully have limits on spending during election campaigning in this country but they’re not exactly hard to circumnavigate. Advocates of open primaries think that there can be effective controls on spending but anyone who witnessed the Tories key seat strategy at the 2005 General Election will tell you what absolute rubbish this is. Guess what? The Tories won seats off Labour where they outspent us massively. Whether you like it or not, money talks in politics and it doesn’t matter if you tell candidates they can’t spend more than X amount of money during a 4 week primary campaign if they’ve spent half a million quid on campaigning in the two years prior to that, and spend it they will. Especially if they happen to have backers with deep pockets.

Which brings us nicely on to our next subject.Who’ll be behind the candidates with the chequebook? We don’t have to look far to realise where this leads. A quick glance across the Atlantic to the US and we know. The lobby firms. Big companies with vested interests all willing to bankroll candidates. British democracy isn’t perfect by a long way, but it’s a damn sight better than anything that we’re likely to get copying the Americans.

That’s not to say that money is the be all and end all of the situation. Exposure doesn’t necessarily require vast sums of money because some people will be able to achieve publicity without it although odds on, these people will then attract the money as a good bet by those currying for favour. We’re talking celebrities here folks. From those with national exposure down to the local celeb or even journalist type who are already in a position to command personal publicity in their own right. Odds on they’re not going to be particularly poor working class people either if they’re in that line of work.

There’s a final group of people who open primaries would benefit. Although again, they’re unlikely to be poor or working class but those who work in ‘the business’. PR people, marketeers. People with the technical savvy involved in publicity.

So just so we can recap. Open primaries benefit the rich/independently wealthy, celebrities who can get publicity and professional PR and marketing people. Anyone who complains about the current stock of people sitting on the green benches might want to consider how much they’d like them being populated by people from those backgrounds instead.

The Party Political system isn’t broken. It’s taken some heavy knocks recently which haven’t been essentially its fault, more that of a select minority of politicians whose actions have tarred both others and the Party Politics system in general.

Party Politics isn’t about a select group of people sitting in smoke filled rooms secretly deciding the fate of the prols at the door (The Labour Party banned smoking in meetings years ago). Anyone who wants to take part is free to do so if they wish and only in exceptional cases would an application for membership be turned down of which there’s a full right of appeal process. The point is that in general people aren’t paying up to join political parties so they can be involved in deciding candidates.

There’s a valid argument about why people should pay to become party members to have a right in selecting a candidate. However we have to look at how and who would run primaries?

Assuming it were run by individual parties who have to somehow be able to ballot everyone in a constituency and more importantly afford to do it. This is not cheap and someone’s got to pay for it somewhere along the line. There’s not a party in the country that could afford to run open primaries in all constituencies, it’s simply too costly so we either end up with it being run by someone like the local authority on their behalf which equals council tax monies being spent on what I’m sure the right would describe as a waste of taxpayers money (of which I’d actually agree in this case as I’d rather it be spent on stuff that benefits society like youth services and schools) or the state nationally bunging the political parties enough money to run them which equals state funded parties and well yes, someone’s got to pay for that too. However unlike the present system where those who wish to participate can sign up and pay their dues to a political party, the whole population ends up paying so probably a small minority of voters can do the same.

What we must also realise is that in our multi-party system we can’t discriminate against any party if they were to decide to run an open primary for their Parliamentary candidate. So although there is obvious attention given to the main two parties, what is there to stop a minority party, and lets pick a horrid little one at random, say the BNP from saying they want an open primary and dear Government funding person, can we have X amount of thousands of pounds to run one and mail everyone in the constituency while we’re at it? Wonder how a load of ballot papers and freepost candidate literature for the BNP would go down in David Lammy’s constituency?

Right, that’s enough food for thought for tonight. I may well come back to this issue when I’ve got a bit more time.

I’ll also note that I asked David Lammy MP via Twitter if he would put himself up for an open primary. He didn’t respond.

A final note for those in any party advocating such a system but expecially to my fellow comrades. Anyone can go out and campaign for a political party. I don’t think any party excludes people from campagining for them because let’s be honest, all parties are desperate for help doing things like leafletting and knocking on doors. If selecting candidates doesn’t require party membership then short of perhaps the people who want to be candidates (who we’ll presume will have to be party members to put themselves forward) and the terminally meeting obsessed masochistic. What’s the point in being a member anymore? How do you think membership of political parties and their funding streams are going to be affected by all this?

LabourHome – well, it’s shit innit?

Leading on from and certainly coming to the party late on this one as usual from over MoT, Tom Watson, and Luke Akenhurst there seems to be a bit of trouble regarding a little poll of ‘grassroots’ members over at LabourHome which rather helpfully turned up on the front of the Independent newspaper.

What’s to be said about it then? Well, it’s quite clearly a load of old rubbish. Wouldn’t pass for a proper poll in any terms and quite clearly open to abuse.

I don’t visit LabourHome very often, there’s a distinct reason and that’s because it’s shit. Apart from the obvious criticisms about the site itself that Unity rather eloquently highlights and I share from the ‘techies’ perspective, the content isn’t worth the time taken to read it.

The Independent is clearly the crap newspaper that I always thought it to be if it runs with this kind of obviously flawed survey and treats it as anything of value. The irony being that there’s actually plenty out there in teh’ blogosphere that outclasses what appears in the printed press which is happily ignored by the ‘professional’ writers and observers but anything that’s going to stir things up a bit and flog a few papers on the eve of a party conference, well that’s OK then isn’t it?

I’m curious, can I set up a site, let’s call it Conservative Grassroots Voice shall we. Get a good number of people along, some Tories, some others, doesn’t really matter. Do a poll about how useless and devoid of substance David Cameron is and see if a paper would publish the results. Go on, what’s the betting that’s a runner?

As for Alex Hilton? I do wonder. Apart from hooking up with Guido to run a company that has foisted hideous amounts of Flash based advertising space that never seems to actually advertise anything other than itself on the British political blogosphere I can’t point to a positive contribution to the Labour cause.

One can only conclude he’s after a cheap bit of self-promotion and driving a few more visitors by the site because I cannot imagine any outcome of this that might have aided the party. Either that or he is so politically naive as to not understand the way in which such an action would be twisted against the party that I wouldn’t trust him to do leafletting for me, let alone anything more substantive that requires a bit of political wherewithal.

BTW, can someone explain to me how one becomes a ‘grassroots’ member? Does 21 years campaigning for the party (yes, predating most of these young hanger-oner’s and careerists that seemed to infuse the party in the mid-90′s who seem to have better things to do these days) qualify? If so I have no problems in pinning my colours to mast and saying I think Gordon Brown is doing a good job in what is a very difficult period for the economy and the last thing the British population want is a Government indulging in a pointless leadership contest and navel gazing when it’s got better things to be doing.

Labour Party listings and some rather rambling musings

The other day I picked up on a post from Tom Watson MP relating to his list of Labour Party MP’s who have some form of web presence, be it site or blog.

He was asking if there was a better way to organise such a list and it got me thinking.

The last few weeks have been a time of reflection for me. I think what sparked it off was attending WordCampUK in Birmingham and running into this chap.

I think it’s easy to get into mired down in the party political confrontational aspects of the blogosphere but that detracts from what is possible. Not that it isn’t a good bit of fun from time to time but like other aspects of our democratic culture in the UK it represents a disproportionate element, both in profile and public perception of the political discourse than it actually does or indeed should.

That is not necessarily to blame politicians directly, our media feeds on conflict. Where great swathes of policy that affect our lives are really beaten out, in the Committee stages, they are next to never featured on the evening news.

They’re not featured because, well, they’re boring and this is where the problem lies. Politics is boring, especially when it’s done right.

Every now and then, usually after a poor turnout in (insert election) you get a raft of politicians of all colours cropping up saying we have to try and inspire the electorate to vote. There’s usually the obligatory reference to ‘young people’ because they just don’t do this whole voting thing and we obviously need to make it sexy and exciting for them.

The problem is, politics isn’t sexy and exciting. To go down that route of trying to make it appeal to people on the basis of preconsidered views of what they want is the wrong approach.

We shouldn’t go about trying to change ‘politics’ to tailor it to a post-ish MTV generation, constantly in need of new fresh ever changing messages because it simply isn’t sustainable in the long term and will contribute even more towards a disillusionment in politics as a whole.

We should be honest, say that yes, politics is boring, it’s not some simplistic sound bite that will make everything better, its policy, all with their pro’s and con’s that need thrashing out to achieve a better outcome. It doesn’t happen the next day or even the next week and guess what, you may not see the benefits for years or even a generation or two down the line but it’s important.

Returning to where this post started.

There’s a lot that can be done, whether it be directly through the body politic, through a political party, as a community, a group with shared interests or simply as an individual that can have a positive impact on society, the local community or another individual’s life as a whole.

That’s what really matters, not who ‘beat’ who at the dispatch box. I ‘do’ politics but if I’ve watched half a dozen PMQ’s in the last 15 years then that’s probably about it because it doesn’t matter and is a distraction from real politics.

Politics can be a strong catalyst for change but the political system falls into the trap of pandering to an agenda not set by itself, or indeed the people who elect our representatives but an agenda set out by those who’s vested interests are a population of willing consumers, cynical of those who seek to improve the lives of others and pandering to the simplest instincts of base selfishness.

There’s a lot that can be done and I’m really excited about how various uses of data manipulation and interaction can bring about positive change and even the littlest things or resources available contribute to that.

So back to that list of MP’s for the Labour Party that’s been doddering around Tom Watson’s site since the year dot. It doesn’t matter how it’s implemented, if it remains nothing more than a simple list of HTML links. If out there somewhere, there’s a few people that find it useful and it helps them to do something or aid a bit of work then it’s fine and worth keeping. Not so sure about the ‘teens’ section though, that probably is past its sell by date.

European selections time again.

If you’re a member of the Labour Party in the West Midlands then you’ll already have had your ballot papers to select who is going to stand in next year’s European elections. It’s a list system and the papers are split between sitting MEP’s and others.

That means we have to decide in an order of preference who to place number one and number two of the current two sitting MEP’s Michael Cashman and Neena Gill which will determine who comes top on the final regional ballot paper.

I’ll be the first person to admit that I haven’t exactly took as much of an interest in the procedure as I have in previous years primarily due to being too busy doing other things but the ballot papers need filling in and sending off.

Yesterday I got an e-mail from Neena Gill. I’m presuming that I’ll get others from the other candidates and that the party is allowing them to send out their message to the members but I haven’t had anything from any other candidate yet. Apart from that, all I’ve had is an admittedly good quality leaflet from Michael Cashman and something today about some of the other candidates.

On the basis of the two, and bear in mind that I do take a keen interest in marketing and campaigning then I’d probably put Michael Cashman as my number one choice.

Within the context of purely their marketing approach, Cashman seems far more professional. I may still get some wonderfully professional looking piece of literature from Neena Gill but that will be too late because the ballot papers will be done tonight.

As I said, I take a keen interest in marketing, not simply just the message which is of course the most important part but style is equally important. The e-mail in question that I received was a simple plain text based e-mail which if you compare to the normal very professional looking HTML encoded e-mails that party members are used to receiving from the national party, it looked, well, just a bit crap. Incidentally the message didn’t say anything that appealed to me either and looked like it had been written as an afterthought following a night out on the lash.

One thing that did strike me though was the instruction and link at the bottom. In a vain hope that Neena might be getting down a jiggy with new technology it instructs you to go to YouTube and type ‘Neena Gill’ in the search. This of course I dutifully did and it returns only one result that is actually Neena Gill as in the MEP. Last night it had a grand total of 8 views which is now up to 50 odd so presumably a few other people have done the same.

I did watch the video. It didn’t exactly inspire me to vote for her either as the delivery was poor, wooden and still didn’t really talk about the issues that are important to me in a European context. Incidentally, here’s the video.

Me being the nosy sod that I am noticed that it had been posted by a user called ‘cafferty’ and was the sole video that he/she had posted to YouTube. Again being nosy I had a look at their profile and it reads as:

Name: caffie
Age: 21
City: Birmingham
Country: United Kingdom
Occupation: lazy-ass law student, professional slacker

Note to Neena. When embarking on an attempt at harnessing the marketing potential of the internet try to get someone who actually knows what they’re doing and not someone who lists their occupation as a ‘lazy-ass law student, professional slacker’ from Birmingham. It doesn’t quite give the right impression now does it?

Wondering then if Michael Cashman was on Youtube I dropped in a search for him. He doesn’t appear to have tried any kind of marketing approach as regards the use of new media (although he may yet e-mail all the members, who knows but it would seem a bit late to set up any kind of web based campaign) but there’s certainly nothing specific on YouTube. What there are though are a few examples posted by other people.

The first up is this one which at least to me comes across as a lot more fluid and professional a delivery on a subject that I do find important.

Incidentally, it’s been on YouTube a bit longer but has had nearly 4,000 views which isn’t exactly bad.

Yes, Cashman does have an advantage over Neena in terms of delivery on account of his previous profession before entering politics and just for you delectation here’s a snippet from his past.

Right, that seals it, anyone who goes to deck Pete in the Queen Vic gets my number one vote.

Blogroll update

While I’m thinking of my young virile mate Paul Macmanomy I’ll just note that he has been removed from my blogroll. For no other reason than Paul appears to have gone blogging AWOL again and the URL of his site has been picked up by what appears to be one of those horrible blog advertising sites. Therefore I have no desire whatsoever to give it linkage for which I’d advise other colleagues to do likewise.

Paul, if you come back let us know and back up you go.

The opportunist strikes again

I’m starting to warm to David Cameron. He’s single-handedly doing more to boost the prospects of the Labour Party through his flagrant opportunism and lack of background research than any amount of work we could do on our own side.

Hat tip to Sunny over at Pickled Politics for this one as he was obviously up later last night than I was. News that Labour Councillor Gurcharan Singh is due to defect to the Tories and you can bet Davey boy has lined up a big media event to welcome him into their ranks.

Sadly though, at least for Cameron is that he may well have jumped before looking, asking some questions and doing his research on his new found recruit. Gurcharan Singh was unsuccessful in obtaining the nomination to be the Labour candidate in the by-election which begs the question of his own opportunism? Perhaps, just perhaps there’s a reason that the Labour Party didn’t select him to stand as our candidate in the Ealing Southall by-election?

I don’t normally do speculation as you know, but according to some good friends from down that neck of the woods, they’ll be very glad to get shot of him and you never know, he may just take a few others with him. Good old Davey boy, you’ve done us all a favour.

[Update] The post over at Pickled Politics seems to have disappeared for some reason. Good job I saved it just in case.

[Update] post back up on Pickled Politics.

Harriet Harman

Hmm, well could have been worse, Alan Johnson could have won. However given a difference of 0.8% in the result it was very much a close one. Good on Jon Cruddas to come in third he wasn’t that far off in the end. Hopefully Gordon can fit him into a campaigning role for the party in the future.

Weekly review

I’ve not posted much for the last few days. Actually nothing as I’ve been doing a few other things so I thought I’d do a little bit of a round up of events/issues.

On Tuesday the Penguin household braved the border patrols and sneaked into the Sandwell Borough to attend the launch of the Jon Cruddas Deputy Leadership campaign. Bob Piper did a good summing up of the event and in truly photographic genius style, managed to get the backs of the whole Penguin household in the frame. I learned one thing from that; I need a hair cut.

On the serious side it was refreshing to see Cruddas talk about issues that seem to have not got the attention they deserve in recent years, primarily that of social housing. The problems have been brewing for a generation but even if the debate is finally up there where it belongs, then perhaps we can start address an issue that affects many on lower incomes.

Following on from that, and it does beg the question: “where do we get these people from”, the comments made by Margaret Hodge. Short of making a play for the Leadership of the BNP, it makes you wonder how some people get to where they are on the basis of such awful political nouse. Perhaps it’s a lack of imagination but her comments have been rightfully condemned by many as they should. If she is concerned about the gains made by the BNP in her own constituency, not helped of course by her own last rash of daft comments then she should learn at least one thing of which I would have thought someone who has got the position of being an MP should already know.

You cannot win on the basis of using the argument of the opposition. Especially when that opposition are the horrid bunch of toe-rags that the BNP are. You cannot appropriate the blame for a lack of social housing by accepting the arguments from the far-right that it’s all these naughty East Europeans invading the country. She should know, unless Barking is a very strange place indeed that migrants rarely end up in council houses. The vast majority end up in low quality private sector accommodation or the equivalent of shared dorms of workers. They’re not holed up in nice 3 and 4 bedroom council semi’s because although if they are in the UK, earning and paying tax then they should be entitled, there’s a shitload more people ahead of them on the waiting lists who’ve been there for years and short of a very exceptional circumstance, they ain’t going to be able to jump the queues.

She would have been far more productive in addressing the reasons for this lack of housing and it’s underlying causes, rather than effectively writing the BNP’s next leaflet campaign in Barking for them.

I spotted this during the week too. I just have a few thoughts on this, none of them complimentary towards Microsoft as regular readers will have probably guessed. So here’s the scenario, Microsoft want there to be a professional body for IT people in the UK because there’s too many out there doing dodgy fixes or bodged jobs on systems.

First point being that this is a bit rich given the output of Microsoft in terms of ‘good’ programming is laughable. They release software with bugs in them, highly unsecure systems and quite frankly are not the people to lecture others about high levels of competence.

Secondly, they’ve helpfully inferred that their own Microsoft accreditation programme would be very useful in assessing and registering IT ‘professionals’. Well, no it woudn’t, it would tell people that they know how to use one of a myriad of different systems available, and the poorest of those to boot. Are they seriously thinking that the UK Government would fall for what is patently an attempt to sew up the market by being supplier and effective registrar of those who work in the industry. Come on, no Government Minister is going to fall for that one. On the other hand this is IT so it’s always possible, but thankfully it appears the Government is very cool to this idea of a professional body anyway.

Thirdly, and finally, I’ll admit it, I’m a bodger. Not so much these days but in a past life of being surrounded by Microsoft’s products at work. There’s two reasons you have to bodge around with systems. It has nothing to do with your level of expertise and everything to do with Microsoft. Apart from the software they produce being unstable and a complete security nightmare at times (yes I do remember manually having to hack a rather pernicious virus of computers across the UK via remote access and manually having to do every machines registry system because none of the tools that were supposed to work did, or they allowed the machines to re-infect each other before you could isolate them) but as with everything with Microsoft, you never 100% know what you’re dealing with. I can happily mess about the registry of a system, that thing they tell you never to touch because a character in the wrong place can happily kill a machine but despite this knowledge, I still don’t know exactly how Windows works. Why? Well, because they don’t release the code, it’s all secret so at best you’re dealing with educated guesswork or previous experience. You can never know exactly what’s going on because it doesn’t get outside of a building in Redmond.

I think that’s pretty much it for the weekly review. Apart from Mrs Penguin has nicked my ‘good’ computer, I’ve spent a lot of time enjoying watching my son learn to run and I’m looking forward to my first trip to the cinema to see Pirates of the Caribbean 3 since I went to see Star Wars – Revenge of the Sith, from which you can deduce I don’t go to the cinema very often. I’ve also took advantage of the brief bit of good weather to do some of the jobs I haven’t been able to do outside or that require sunshine. Sadly this opportunity seems short-lived as it’s decidedly pissing it down again. Good night to one and all.

Just so you know who I’m voting for

With the impending resignation due today of the Leader of the Labour Party I thought it apt to pin my colours to the mast which is plainly obvious by the new little graphic I’ve added below the main site menu.

The choice for leader has always been simple for me. For more reasons than I care to mention I will be supporting Gordon Brown.

For deputy it has been a little more complicated for which I’ve deliberated over before. However I’ve decided to support Jon Cruddas because I both value Peter Hain more for the talents and abilities that he could offer as a Government Minister and that I agree with the separation of the roles of Deputy Leader of the Party and Deputy Prime Minister.

We need a Deputy who isn’t about having a Cabinet brief but about working to revitalise the party and both re-engage and motivate the grass-roots activists to work harder than ever before to ensure that everything we have achieved in Government isn’t wrecked by the election of a Tory administration. Of all the candidates who’ve declared an interest I see him as the most able and dedicated to achieve that so that’s where my vote will be going.

Quick note: Anyone wishing to use the graphic for their own site is quite welcome to it. Feel free to copy and download it or drop me a line and I can mail the original, although it’s no bigger than the one here as I designed it specifically for its current dimensions.