AN OPEN LETTER TO THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY CHAIRMAN ABOUT THE LONDON MAYORALTY
From Tim Montgomerie, Editor of ConservativeHome.com
You know that ConservativeHome has long been an advocate of open primary elections and I would like, therefore, to enthusiastically welcome the news that you are planning to select the next Conservative candidate for London Mayor by this open and inclusive method.
It’s a great idea but it’s also too good an idea to rush.
I hope that the schedule leaked to the blogger Watlington is very much a draft schedule. I think there are many good reasons for waiting a little longer before opening nominations and then to spend a little longer testing the nominees. So many great initiatives announced by the Tories in recent years have been botched. We haven’t looked professional when being professional is one of the most important things an opposition party can deliver. Another botched episode could suggest to the more sceptical voters that we may not be ready for government.
Listed below are ten reasons for a longer and more thorough primary process…
1. Active consultation of Tory members: There will be a lot of scepticism amongst Tory members about this bold idea. Spending a bit of time explaining the advantages of an open primary election to members would be useful. The Party Board – which should not be a rubber stamp in agreeing this idea – could consult members on the design of the election process. In order, for example, for members to have a special role in the process they could play a role in sifting nominations down to a manageable number before the wider London electorate is given the opportunity to vote.
2. Absorb the lessons of the London borough elections: The schedule leaked to Watlington suggested that nominations could open at the end of May with hustings beginning weeks later. The leak could, of course, be false. I hope so. Opening nominations so soon after London’s borough elections would be unhelpful. There’ll be no time to digest the lessons of those results and our councillors will be so absorbed in forming new majority administrations (let’s hope!), and absorbing new council members, that they won’t be able to be as involved in the nomination process as they deserve to be. Next month is the worst possible time to distract our councillors – some of whom may want to play active and advisory roles in the Mayoral selection process.
3. Headhunt some Mayoral candidates: The Conservative Party is rightly spending time headhunting candidates for parliamentary seats. We should spend some time encouraging people to be involved in the race for London Mayor. Opening nominations at the end of May and rushing into hustings will stop such a process happening.
4. Give time for ‘normal’ candidates to free themselves from commitments: The rush will also be difficult on practical grounds for many possible candidates. Most people with normal jobs can’t drop their business or family plans to run for the Tory nomination throughout this summer. They need time to disentangle themselves from commitments. The people most likely to be ready for a rushed nomination are the very rich or the very political – not necessarily the ideal representatives of David Cameron’s changing Conservative Party.
5. It mustn’t look like an ‘inside job’: A rush job will feed the scare
– already propagated by Watlington – that this is an inside job and
that CCHQ already has a preferred candidate or candidates.
6. Summer is the wrong time to hold a process of hustings: Many Tory members and Londoners, particularly those with school age kids, will be on holiday in July and August. They’ll miss the opportunity to meet and question candidates. Hustings in the autumn – or even later – would maximise popular participation.
7. The primary system and its technology needs to be done brilliantly: The technology cannot be got wrong. Ideally we will be able to raise a lot of money for the party through this open process. Ensuring security for online donations is vital. Time should be spent finding out how we can use texting and internet voting in ways that will build most confidence in the process. We should give time for business providers to prepare imaginative bids to supply the IT for the process. Those bids should include the provision of internet voting platforms that the party can deploy in the future, too.
8. The nominees should be thoroughly tested: Once the nomination process is complete we should have an extended period of competition between the nominees. American primary elections are fought over at least three to six months. That sort of time period ensures that candidates are fully tested on their skills at team building, fundraising, staff management and policy development. We need to have a similarly demanding primary process so that we can be sure our nominee is up to the job of being the Mayor of the great world city of London.
9. Compatibility with the party’s wider message: The Party’s Policy Groups are still 14 months from reporting. By this autumn many of their conclusions will be unformed. Waiting a few months will mean that the Groups might be publishing ideas that the Mayoral candidates might benefit from. A danger of choosing a candidate too early will be the increased likelihood that they will take up positions at odds with the recommendations of the Policy Groups.
10. What’s the rush? The next Mayoral election isn’t until 2008. A six month extension of Watlington’s timetable will still give the eventual nominee a full year to oppose Red Ken.
With best wishes,
Editor of ConservativeHome.com