Lots of excitement among Labour quarters after Labour Ed Miliband announcement that the next Labour candidate for Mayor of London will be selected via a Primary – a vote in which registered party members and non-members who register as supporters will be able to cast a vote.
Primaries are the ‘in thing’ and they might well have a role in opening up the selection of Parliamentary candidates where a party wants to increase its vote by selecting a candidate with broad appeal.
If you’ve consistently been second or third in a ‘safe’ seat and want to leapfrog your opponents, it makes sense to offer local voters a say in the selection of the eventual candidate in the hope that this translates into enough votes come polling day to win the seat.
But I fail to see the benefits of Primaries in selecting a candidate for Mayor of London where the need to secure more than 50% of the vote means parties already need to pick candidates who appeal beyond the narrow party base.
Will Londoners who’ve not already joined the party want to sign up as a supporter so they can hear half a dozen would-be runners argue among themselves about who has the purer take on its ideology?
We’ve already had one Primary to select a Mayoral candidate – a mere 20,019 voted to select a Conservative candidate in 2007, hardly a ringing endorsement of the concept as was the lack of outcry when Labour or the Tories failed to hold one in 2012.
But what if I’m wrong and the public do take the idea of Primaries to their heart? What if tens of thousands of Londoners flock to the public meetings and register to vote?
In that case the most likely – and presumably unintended – impact of a Primary is that some of those talked up as potential runners will be driven from the race, unable to capture the imaginations of a wider, selector base.
Some, such as Sadiq Khan, who talk up the impact of a Primary are likely to be among the first victims while a familiar, moderate face such as Tessa Jowell could lead-frog the so-called front runners.
More widely, could a party membership end up with a candidate they don’t support or want? And if so, how would that candidate rally the troops and ensure they hit the streets?