Ed Miliband backs open primaries

Climate Change Secretary says the "tide of history" is with primaries

From the Labour conference

Ed Miliband has become the latest leading Labour figure to come out in support of open primaries for Westminster constituencies. At a fringe meeting this evening, I asked the Climate Change Secretary whether he backed the proposal, which would allow non-party members to select parliamentary candidates.

Miliband replied that while he had some anxieties about the idea, he now believed the "tide of history" was with primaries.

He said: "If you put a gun to my head and asked where I'd land I'd say with open primaries."

Others who have backed open primaries include James Purnell, David Miliband and Tessa Jowell. Until now the idea has largely been seen as one favoured by the "Blairite" wing of the party but Miliband's response proves it's gaining ground on the centre left, too.

At a time when all the major parties are haemorrhaging members, I'm sceptical of anything that further dilutes the status of those who remain. It's very hard to point to any direct influence, aside from selecting election candidates, that members enjoy. The introduction of primaries would provide another excuse for thousands of people to leave the Labour Party.

I'm also concerned that primaries would lead to a big increase in the influence of money on election contests. Candidates competing to win the support of thousands of voters would be required to spend substantially more on their campaigns.

The influence of money on US congressional primaries is well evidenced by the fact that 40 of the country's 100 senators are millionaires. A cap on spending could remedy this problem but it's another question mark over an idea that doesn't deserve the status it's acquired.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.