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Leading Corbynista calls for Labour to introduce US-style primaries to select candidates

February 5th, 2019

Will party members and the unions be happy about giving up their selection powers?

In a Tweet last night one of Labour’s most prominent and leading Corbyn backers, Aaron Bastani, called for what would be a radical change in the way the party selects candidates for Parliament and other elected offices. Instead of the current system which puts just about all the power with Trade Unions and members he wants US style primaries.

In the US there are different systems for determining who primary electors are. In some states it can be all voters whilst in others it is restricted to those who register as Democrats or Republicans. In many states you can turn up at the polling on the day and register as a party supporter.

Bastani’s plan is a radical departure which was tried by the Tories in a few seats ahead of GE2010 but which hasn’t featured much, if at all, since. For the Totnes seat ahead of that election a full postal primary took place involving all those registered on he electoral roll. It cost the party £40k+.

It proved to be extremely popular with 24.6% of voters taking part in the election choosing a local GP Sarah Wollaston.

    As was widely pointed out at the time having a personal mandate like this meant that Sarah was less in hoc to the party machine and she has proved to be one of the most independent minded Tory MPs ready to fight on the NHS and against Brexit.

In other seats ahead of GE2010 the Tories made selections at open meetings at which any voter could attend and cast their ballots. It wasn’t just restricted to Tory voters. I, myself, attended and voted at such a primary meeting to select The Tory candidate for Bedford’s elected Mayor.

The real issue with the Bastani plan for Labour is that it is hard to see those with the power already, the unions and the members, being ready to give it up. Without any special selection process benefit it would make membership less attractive.

What makes this interesting is that it comes from Bastani who is very close to Corbyn. My guess though is that Labour’s machine will not allow this to happen.

Mike Smithson