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Will the next Tory leader be chosen by an open primary election? (And if they are what is the point of being a Tory member?)

I've been largely off duty for the last 48 hours and have missed the opportunity to say what Jonathan Isaby has already said about the Totnes primary result.  I'll simply copy & paste the words that appear in a leading article in The Independent:

"In the present climate of wide disaffection with politicians, any innovation that can generate public participation in politics is welcome. Ms Wollaston will go into the next general election having been selected by 7,914 of her fellow constituents, rather than a local party of 700 members. That can only be healthy for our democracy. Open primaries are not the only reform needed to reinvigorate our stagnant political culture. But they are an excellent start."

Picture 14 The open primary process does have significant implications for being a party member, however (as John Strafford made clear in this radio discussion).  Why would anyone want to be a member?

  • Membership was once necessary to be a parliamentary candidate but this summer David Cameron opened up the list to non-members.  Is that a permanent change?
  • Michael Howard tried to remove members' decisive say in the leadership election in 2005.  He nearly succeeded.
  • Members were stripped of the power to deselect sitting MEPs by John Maples MP and the Party Board.
  • Members are not only going to lose the decisive say in selections if open primaries become the norm (I actually support that) but (something I don't support) they are also losing the power to shortlist.
  • The Heartland magazine that members received during William Hague's time as leader has been scrapped.
  • The affinity rewards for members are okay but not special.

I have mixed feelings on all this. ConHome partly exists to champion the rights of party members (and to counter the way they are caricatured) but it's also true that mass membership parties are a thing of the past. The internet will change the nature of democracy. There are so many issues here but before we get to the stage where the next Tory leader is elected by a national open primary election [it's not impossible that Brown's Labour successor might be chosen that way] there should at least be a debate as to whether we want membership of the Conservative Party to still be a meaningful thing?

Tim Montgomerie


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