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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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.