Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Local GP Wins Totnes Open Primary

The Totnes open primary result is interesting for two reasons...

1. The turnout. Most pundits and people within the Conservative Party had predicted a turnout of at most, 15%. In the end it was 25%. Eric Pickles professed himself to be "tickled pink", conjuring up an unfortunate image in the process. He has every right to be. It totally vindicates the experiment and we can now expect this process to be repeated elsewhere if the funding can be found.

2. The result. A female local GP didn't just wallop two experienced local council leaders, Sarah Wollaston trounced them.

Sarah Wollaston - 7,914
Sara Randall Johnson - 5,495
Nick Bye - 3,088

Is this an anti politician vote? Will this encourage other Conservative seats to risk selecting candidates with no experience of politics? I have no idea, but it wouldn't surprise me.

It seems to have become part of the conventional wisdom that this whole exercise cost upwards of £40,000. I have no idea what the real cost was, but from what I know of printing and mailing costs I'd be surprised if it cost half that.

51 comments:

Unsworth said...

Forty grand well spent then.

Working Class Tory said...

I think she was a genuinely good candidate, rather than simply "not a politician" etc.

There's a profile of her in the local paper, where she talks about what she could offer etc. I would vote for her, really.

She stands up for the local way of life, and generally seems a good people person.

http://www.thisissouthdevon.co.uk/government/DR-SARAH-WOLLASTON/article-1186859-detail/article.html

I would imagine she would be a very well-liked local MP.

Philip Parkin said...

Interesting experiment but I doubt it'll be repeated too often because (1) it's expensive and (2) it marginalises the constituency association. Let's hope the activists who do all the hard work at election time are happy with the choice of candidate.

Chris Lovell said...

Having printed a few target letters I too would be surprised if it cost anywhere near that amount.

Anonymous said...

Speaking from a local Devon perspective, take a step back and you'll see this was a vote for the non-political candidate. The two other emminently better-qualified (particularly Randall-Johnson) candidates were swept away by a GP who droned on ad nauseum about binge-drinking!

Her leaflet was so thin and lacking in substance that the Party (who oversaw the whole thing, lets not forget) slapped on a ruddy great picture of her to cover up the fact she had very little to say.

Terry Hamblin said...

Could have a parliament full of doctors if this goes on. No-one is more popular with the public - and after all they have been through tougher selection processes to get there.

Boo said...

Prototypes can be expensive, once it becomes the norm costs will come down.

Lets see more of this

Timothy Wallace said...

If the 'experiment' is now accepted as policy and repeated elsewhere, perhaps we can compare candidates selected by the local party and those selected by open primary and get a rough impression (you can't be exact, of course) of which method is more successful.

I strongly suspect the open primary candidates will shine - a great victory for accountability!

tapestry said...

Pickles Tickled Pink. A verbal challenge as well as a visual and political one.

Open those Primaries, Conservatives.

About bloody time all that A List nonsense, and Francis Maudism, was consigned to the dustbin of history.

tapestry said...

Pickles Tickled Pink. A verbal challenge as well as a visual and political one.

Open those Primaries, Conservatives.

About bloody time all that A List nonsense, and Francis Maudism, was consigned to the dustbin of history.

Anonymous said...

It would be wonderful to see this process repeated countrywide, both for vacant seats as well as sitting MPs.

Jon Harvey said...

I am left still wondering about these primaries for the following reasons:

1) What is to stop opponents to whichever party is holding the primary, to deliberately vote for a poor candidate?

2) Where does this leave members and constituency parties. Removing their right to select a candidate leaves them with almost nothing to do anymore

3) Will such primaries discourage people from joining political parties because after 2) above - what is the point?

4) Who gets to select the short list - there is still room for a stitch up I suppose

5) And why oh why was FPTP used - the winning candidate had only 48% of the vote - why not use STV or at least AV (as most selections do these days....)

6) And what about the cost and the legalities of this vote. Is it binding on the constituency party? What happens now if the winning candidate is suddenly found to be unsuitable - after the journalists have gone digging...? What then?

This whole affair leaves far more questions than answers, I feel.

JuliaM said...

"Is this an anti politician vote?"

What do the results tell you?

Council House Tory said...

This should be rolled out to the the 200 safest seats at least, perhaps more. They don't change very often, so the cost shouldn't be prohibitive.

Brilliant result and makes this a more likely hold now, which after that berk Steen's you're all jealous nonsense will be something of a triumph for the party.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea who the candidates are but regardless of that, this is an excellent turnout and an excellent result for democracy if nothing else.

If this system were applied to sitting MPs and all selections it would surely bolster the primary winner's cause tremendously come the actual election.

Perhaps the first wholesale use of this should be to select the candidates to run for directly elected Mayor positions next year in places like Hackney and Newham?

trevorsden said...

If the tories have selected the candidate for the seat that mandelson is expected to be shoehorned in to then he/she should be persuaded to step down and they should do the same there.

Obsidian said...

Has anyone informed Harriet Harman that women occupied the top two spots?

I'm sure she'll be horrified it occurred without governmental intervention, a raft of new laws and no universal condemnation of a Tory plot to repaint the political landscape n pure, unadulterated testosterone.

unseen said...

I wonder if the extra buy-in will boost her vote in the General. 7000 people now feel they have already backed her and may be more inclined to do so again (if they weren't already Tory voters).

Anonymous said...

Her campaign on drugs should be of enormous interest in Totnes.Steen must be having a quiet chuckle to himself.Whoever organised the Lab and Lib votes is to be congratulated.Exactly how many workers will cchq be sending in at the election to back this highly skilled campaigner?

Mark M said...

According to the BBC - 'John Strafford, who chairs the Campaign for Conservative Democracy group said it was another "nail in the coffin for party membership and party democracy" and was "more interference from Conservative central office"'

Interference from Central Office? 16,000 people have voted to choose their candidate. How is that from Central Office? Presumably this man is just bitter because the person who won is trusted and respected by local people, rather than being a councillor on his way to becoming a professional politician.

As for the cost, no doubt ways can be found to keep the costs down should primaries be required to go nationwide. That internet thingy is fairly cheap to run things on. If we can do postal votes, there must be a way of doing internet votes.

Newmania said...

Thats great ,I have been a fan of open Primaries for a long time. Imagine what would happen if the Labour Party introduced them .How embarrassing to see some working class candidates who did not support floods of immigration soft criminal 'justice' and trendy social nostrums attacking marriage and just about every other institution we like .

It was Frank Field’s warning on the death of democracy which alerted me to the urgent need to reconnect Parliament with real people . So what about it Labour ,and Liberals ? Fancy some real people having a say or are you sticking with your class entrysim rigged PR con rto pass all the power to Eton and St Pauls sitting in Brussels preferably

Power to the People Mr. Dale , Power to the People !

( How nice to see Tapestry ..salutations )

Tom said...

From the Newsnight profile on the candidates I gathered that Dr Woolaston didn't do any campaigning. Still, she seems like an otherwise strong candidate. I wonder if the process could have been more open, and the electorate better informed, but the turnout level is very encouraging, and I wouldn't mind seeing something like this becoming the norm.

Thomas Rossetti said...

It's not often that I get excited about politics, but I am excited about this. I hope we see more primaries in other constituencies.

The cost did seem very high, but I'm sure there are ways of bringing it down.

Carl Gardner, Head of Legal said...

I suspect there may be a way of doing this more cheaply on the web, too. Anyway, I think it's a good idea, and I'm glad this first attempt has been a success. And that the winner was someone who told the BBC she'd spent absolutely nothing on her campaign.

As for demotivating members - I don't agree at all. I think even on a one member one vote system, many party members feel they have little influence over selections. I think parties need to do much more to make members feel involved - it's no good just relying on the idea that you have a vote in selection contests.

As regards other parties mucking up primaries - well, the field should be good enough so that a real dud can't be voted in. But the real answer is for all parties to disapprove in the strongest terms of such behaviour. If members want genuinely to vote for one candidate rather than another, then fine. As a Labour supporter I can imagine having real reasons for preferring one Conservative to another - their views on poverty and equality (I'll always be against "loadsamoney!" Tories) and social issues such as abortion will matter to me. But pure mischief-making should be regarded in the same way as ballot-rigging. I'd like to have seen Adrian Sanders MP disciplined by the LibDems for his partisan attempt to influence Totnes.

As luck would have it, his preferred candidate came last. Which perhaps shows that cynicism is not as powerful a force as cynics often think.

Benny said...

I can only really see this happening in marginal seats. A great idea though.

Newmania said...

It's not often that I get excited about politics, but I am excited about this. I hope we see more primaries in other constituencies.


What he said , pity its a quiet time this could prove to be an important moment

Boo said...

As for the marginalisation of the consituency association.

It really depends on how they organise it.

If the association gets to vote the longlist down to the shortlist, they will maintain a fair bit of power.

In addition to this there is the power of endorsment. I immagine that the association members would be valuable allies in a primary contest where door to door representation will help.

Anonymous said...

The poor dear apparently expects to change government policy on drugs. Best of luck with that.

Going to bang the drum again, but with STV you don't NEED open primaries - the same process is parcelled up within the election, thus saving the £40,000 times 3 parties per seat.

Anonymous said...

So If the public has any say then parliament will be full of:

Soldiers, Doctors, TV presenters, actors and sportsmen.

Bankers, politicians, social workers and lawyers need not apply.

Not such a bad thing really.

Mark Senior said...

I am in favour of extending democracy and involving the electorate in decisions such as adopting candidates as in this Open Primary . I would question whether £ 40,000 is well spent by a party that ended last year £ 7.5 million in debt .
As to the effect on party membership , the sad fact is that Devon Conservatives are suffering more than most from the falling membership that is affecting all the major political parties . The membership figures for all the Devon constituencies except the 2 Plymouth ones have fallen from 10,824 in 2002 to 7,737 in 2005 and 5,691 at the end of 2008 .

Anonymous said...

The BBC don't mention the 25% turnout figure.

Neil A said...

I know the area well, and my mother-in-law is a local Tory (who voted for Dr W). I don't think being a GP was the only factor at play. Not being a "professional politician" helped (both the other candidates are council leaders) but there were other factors. Dr W was the only candidate that sounded euro-sceptic out of the three leaflets, for example, in this very eurosceptic part of the world. To those that jest about anti-drug campaigns and Totnes, remember that the "alternative" town of Totnes is just part of this big rural constituency. There are far more rural conservative types than there are Dartington-hippy types, and the Tories seldom attract hippy votes anyway. And to those that talk of the marginalisation of the local party, didn't the Association get to pick the shortlist from a longlist of Central Office-approved candidates? So in fact Dr Woolaston has managed to impress the central party, the local party and the local voters to get the nomination. That sounds like a pretty fair say for everyone to me.

Russell said...

As history will judge your blog by the quality of its commenters, and of course we are such a clever and inquisitive lot, you now owe us all an exact description of precisely which part of Eric Pickles was tickled pink. Who did the tickling? Photographs would help.

Armed with this information, we will be able to comment in a way which will do you proud.

Anonymous said...

@Jon Harvey

"1) What is to stop opponents to whichever party is holding the primary, to deliberately vote for a poor candidate?"

There isn't, but in general people are more sensible than that. That candidate if elected at a general or by election will go onto become there MP as well. Voting for the worst one seems prety stupid. Plus it is up to the party to select candidates they would feel happy to have represent them, whoever wins the primary.

"2) Where does this leave members and constituency parties. Removing their right to select a candidate leaves them with almost nothing to do anymore"

Don't know the exact details but I assume that the local association choose the 3 candidates in question to be elected and then ratified Wollaston after she won the primary. That sounds like more to do than simply choosing 1.

"3) Will such primaries discourage people from joining political parties because after 2) above - what is the point?"

There's no point in campaigning locally for the selected candidate at a general election? No point in a local association for conservative minded people to come together to share views etc? I really think there is more to associations than simply picking a candidate to represent the area. And as the primary showed this will re-engage people back into politics. I wouldn't be surprised to see the amount of people joining the local conservative association grow.

"4) Who gets to select the short list - there is still room for a stitch up I suppose"

Local associations I believe. If not, it should be. And as per point 1 they should only be selecting people they are happy to se elected as a Tory at a GE.

"5) And why oh why was FPTP used - the winning candidate had only 48% of the vote - why not use STV or at least AV (as most selections do these days....)"

Makes no sense in a single election. Although I will agree that there are arguments for STV at a general election.

"6) And what about the cost and the legalities of this vote. Is it binding on the constituency party? What happens now if the winning candidate is suddenly found to be unsuitable - after the journalists have gone digging...? What then?"

What price democracy? Or are we going to do the usual British thing of moaning about our politicians for not being good enough and then when something radical like this comes along to redress the balance and try and get some decent people back into parliament moan about how much it is costing? As for your last point what about if a journalist goes digging now and finds an MP isn't suitable? I fail to see the difference.

"This whole affair leaves far more questions than answers, I feel."

This affair has restored my faith in British democracy. Lets hope there's lets more of it.

tapestry said...

Hi, Newmania. Has it been THAT long? Dale used to look so young at the start! I wonder how he's coping with diabetes and middle age.

gordon-bennett said...

What on earth is the point of taking away from paid-up members the privilege of choosing someone to represent them and giving it to the general public, including many who do not have the best interests of the Conservative Party in mind.

And it costs more than the usual system for no better effect.

Glyn H said...

Thank you to Working Class Tory for the link.I have just emailed them this comment:- But are you a Conservative madam? Being a medical doctor you presumably have a fair degree of common sense and intellectual ability. But Dr Howard Sproat signed up to the socialist agenda and presumably supports the malevolent incompetence of Gordon Brown and Vince Cable supposedly once had a proper job (Chief Economist at Shell) but signed up to the loony Europhile beards and sandals of the Lib Dems so being intelligent does not prevent one being a fool.

Totnes floats about on a waft of magic mushrooms and chuckle shoes plus the occasional darker force amongst your shopkeepers (as I read in the press recently) (Info for this post: A weird blackmail case) but can you follow a proper Conservative agenda – which includes stopping the vast waste of the EU, controlling the huge waste in the NHS (I had a pre-op this morning at the RD&E and was given a lunatic Surgery Questionnaire form – an utter squandering of resources) and getting control of our borders and welfare spending especially upon those who object to the Western lifestyle they so willingly seek to suckle from?

If your progeny are at ‘state schools’ in Torbay one presumes that means the Grammar schools. Do you support their expansion? I do - and one less than a tenth of what two doctors earn I put both mine through fee paying schools! A conservative should support tax relief for such expenditure. Do you support the Charity Commission being an arm of Labour party policy, allowing Lottery money to replace proper government expenditure and seeking to remove charitable status from education?

Martin said...

Yes Iain. But will you now condemn the left wing sneering of Newsnight, in particular Michael Crick who was ridiculing this "Tory Stunt"

talwin said...

If New Labour move to primaries no doubt they will incorporate a significant postal vote component.

Anonymous said...

How difficult would it be to have closed primaries in the UK?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closed_primary

I don't know enough about the British system, i.e. do you declare a party affiliation when registering to vote? What does being, as someone said, a "paid-up" member of a party mean?

Man in a Shed said...

This is going to be interesting...
but the parties need to remember their members or else find them members of another party.

Anonymous said...

Pickles-17 more MP's stepping down.17 more open primaries-well dun our eric.Or was it a gimmick?

trevorsden said...

Re my previous post I not only think that IF Mandelbum is parachuted into somewhere that they should run an open primary -- but they should try to persuade Matthew Parris to stand.

Anonymous said...

Can't understand why this is good idea (but then I can't understand the point of the American primaries either).

I suppose it's in tune with the TV talent show format - that's about it.

Stevo Bevo said...

I'd answer John Harvey like this:

1) What's to stop other parties voting for a poor candidate? Well the constituency party not putting forward any poor candidates to the primary obviously.

2) Where does it leave the constituency party now that it hs nothing to do? Well, given the habit of many constituency parties of producing the most toe curling Torby Boy social misfits as PPCs, maybe it;s a good thing that the final decision is taken out of their hands.

3) Why would anyone join a political party if primaries were introduced? To select the final candidates to go forward to the primary. To campaign on their behalf. To knock on doors.

4) Isn't there still room for a stitch-up? Depends what you mean by a stitch-up. What are they going to do? Pick their ideal awful candidate and pick another two who are even worse? They'll just look like fools. The point of primaries isn't just who makes the decision but that that decision is made more public. They could indeed still "fix" the choice but it would be obvious to everyone in the constituency that they'd done so.

5) Why was FPTP used? If the Tories used STV or AV for primaries, that'd weaken any argument they might have for using FPTP in the General Election.

6) What if the media uncover something murky in the past if a candidate chosen by primary? If there's a primary, any murky secrets are more likely to come out during the primary "campaign". Whereas, if the candidate continues to be chosen in smoke filled rooms, the media don't really get to get to work on him until the choice has already been made.

andrewha said...

On the cost issue, William Hague is quoted on the BBc News website as saying it cost £38,000

Anonymous said...

Is this an anti politician vote?

Only in the strictest possible sense. Local people didn't want to be represented by political careerists. They wanted someone from outside the Party Hugbox. In place of whichever candidate was thrown up by the media-political ouroboros, they opted for someone who was known and respected in the area.

This is a tremendously positive move and probably one of the few things that could revitalise local politics. Up 'til now, if we're all quite honest and don't stick our heads in the sand, advancement within the party has, more often than not, been dependent on kissing the right asses in the local party and at central office and of making all the right on-message noises.

Through open primaries, you take power out of the apparatchiks (whose asses are being kissed) and put it into the hands of regular voters. You also introduce a little bit of chaos to party discipline and, with any luck, strip the party leadership of its ability to depend on ranks of anonymous parliamentary automata who can ram through any piece of illiberal badly thought-out legislation (and, yes, I am thinking on the last twelve years...).

Open primaries: they're just plain awesome.

Stevo Bevo said...

I don't think the £40K figure would be repeated. You can see why, with this being a test primary, the Tories would want to pour a fair amount of cash in if only to get people interested. Imagine if the primary had selected the best candidate but the turnout had been 10%. Every news report would be condemning the primaries idea as dead in the water.

I'd be interested to know how much of the £40K was promoting the individual candidates and how much was promoting the fact that a primary was taking place.

As (and if) primaries became more common and more accepted, maybe voters would notice them more as a matter of course and wouldn't have to have them promoted so much.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

It's not often I find harmonious agreement with you and your commentators. Quite frankly, Totnes is gob-smacking. As Unsworth @ 1:13 PM said, "Forty grand well spent then".

So: for the next stage.

All that support for political parties could usefully go (on a per-capita of reply basis) to finance this initiative. For each and every re-selection. If we had that, and proper PR (and fixed-term four-year Parliaments?), we would be on the way to a true democracy.

Just think: locally-answerable candidates. Gawd! One can feel the Whips shaking from here! And yet, we -- all of us -- are no longer just villagers. We have wider perspectives (even when "advised" by the Daily Mail), so we choose our representatives from a wider perspective.

My University is that of Edmund Burke, and I hear him saying what must be the consequence here, the admixture of local interest and national polity:

Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests; which interests each must maintain, as an agent and advocate, against other agents and advocates; but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed; but when you have chosen him, he is not member of Bristol, but he is a member of parliament. If the local constituent should have an interest, or should form an hasty opinion, evidently opposite to the real good of the rest of the community, the member for that place ought to be as far, as any other, from any endeavour to give it effect.

And I reckon a GP might be less biddable than a career politico.

That's not ideological or partisan, either.

A second thought suggests that Nye Bevan might be on side here, too: sorry, can't be arsed to repeat my favourite quotation from In Place of Fear, about the misappropriation of power. Too many vermin might agree therewith. But I've blogged it a couple of times.

Dual Citizen said...

@John Harvey,

1) What is to stop opponents to whichever party is holding the primary, to deliberately vote for a poor candidate?
Nothing. But (a) the more people that vote, as in Totnes, it's highly unlikely that the trolling would have much effect, and (b) mutual deterrence; if someone does it to us, just wait and we'll do it back to you!

2) Where does this leave members and constituency parties. Removing their right to select a candidate leaves them with almost nothing to do anymore
In Totnes the constituency assoc. had the say right down to the final three candidates that went on the ballot.

3) Will such primaries discourage people from joining political parties because after 2) above - what is the point?
I'd say that by giving ordinary people a better insight into politics there's just as much chance that ordinary people may decide to join.

4) Who gets to select the short list - there is still room for a stitch up I suppose.
In Totnes it was the constituency party. Well there might be room for a stitch up, but what benefit would that give the local party? If any local party agrees to a primary then in return Central Office should agree to give the local assoc. a completely free reign over the selection of the final three.

5) And why oh why was FPTP used - the winning candidate had only 48% of the vote - why not use STV or at least AV (as most selections do these days....)
Because it's simple.

6) And what about the cost and the legalities of this vote.
Cost - yes the cost is an issue. How about having the three parties agree to hold a primary at the same time, share postage and cost of the count? Also, maybe instead of free postage, provide convenient ballot drop sites at post offices, supermarkets, etc (in Oregon we even had a drop box in a MacDonalds for the 2008 presidential election)!


Is it binding on the constituency party?
The primary result would have to be binding. If the local party reversed the decision, the seat would be lost.

What happens now if the winning candidate is suddenly found to be unsuitable - after the journalists have gone digging...? What then?
Well that'll just be tough luck! Look at Senator Ted Stevens, Alaska, 2008. Was reselected at the Republican primary, and was then arrested and convicted of corruption. Guess what, he lost!

Edinburgh said...

This is an interesting, but irrelevant side-show (though it may well have selected a good candidate in this case). The real need is to change the voting system to one that gives voters real choice and give voters real power to determine their local representatives in every general election.

Open primaries make no sense. Your political opponents will flood the ballot with votes for the candidate they believe they can most easily defeat in the real election.

And we certainly don't want US-style primaries, where party affiliation is part of the published register of electors.