Are primaries the way of the future

Patrick Leyland blogs at The Progress Report:

In a pretty bold break with tradition the caucus have decided to do things slightly differently this time. While the vote will still rest with the MPs, the candidates have been engaging in a more open campaign than we’ve ever seen. They have been on TV debates, spoken about their merits, blogged, and they have also begun a series of meetings with party members around the country. In my opinion this is the biggest step forward. The idea being that the candidates speak, the members are then afforded an opportunity to ask questions, and then the members are welcome to provide other caucus members with feedback.

Some have quietly complained that they do not get a direct vote in the leadership. This is a valid criticism and one that must be taken seriously by the new leadership team, and the party, during its upcoming review. …

They’ve attracted large crowds of members, many of whom have renewed their memberships just to gain entry and others who haven’t been to a party meeting in many years. It goes to show that an open process can really inspire people to get involved.

Imagine how many more members we would have at the door if they were allowed a vote on the leadership?

I congratulate the caucus and the party for the way they have conducted this process, but I hope they see it as a stepping-stone on the way to something bigger and better.

First of all I agree the public leadership contest has been very good for Labour. I’m pleased they took my advice which I blogged prior to their caucus after the election:

If Labour were really smart they would have the vote in February 2012 just before Parliament resumes and have a two month campaign for the leadership. Have the three contenders talk up and down the country to members and supporters about their vision for the future. It will boost the profiles of all three men, and start to get people to tune into Labour again.

Some have asked whether National will do the same, when it next has a leadership vacancy. It depends. If the vacancy is while they are in Government, then it could be difficult to have Ministers campaigning up and down New Zealand building support to become Prime Minister. Ministers are less able to offer policy alternatives than when you are in opposition.

But if the vacancy occurs when National is in opposition, then yes I hope National does do the same and gives members an opportunity to hear the contenders and question them. In fact members should demand it.

In terms of whether the membership should actually be given a vote on the leadership, I do actually favour that. I think the UK Conservative battle between Cameron and Davis did wonders for that party in terms of increasing membership and relevance.

It is important a leader has the confidence of their caucus, and you would want caucus to be able to veto a leader with minimal support. This could be done by requiring an MP to gain say at least 25% of caucus as nominees (MPs could nominate more than one MP).

I can’t see Labour or National signing up to membership elections of leaders, as the Greens do, anytime soon. But change often comes quickly. Labour’s semi-primary has been a step never done before, and will I suspect become the norm. And that step will lead to demands that mebers one day get more than just a voice, but also a vote. Not necessarily a vote equal to MPs, but some say.

Maybe Labour could take some notice of what is happening with Australia Labor, as they try to make their party more democratic:

Labor stalwarts have warned of a dying party unless major reform is embraced and more power given to the rank-and-file membership. …

She won support for the rank-and-file to directly elect a ”component” of delegates for the party’s future policy-setting national conferences.

The conferences are currently dominated by union and state branch chosen delegates.

Hilarious – the unions get to decide whether or not to let rank and file members directly elect delegates to national conferences, and how much power to allow the rank and file.

The conference also endorsed Ms Gillard’s push for a membership increase target of 8000 for next year, a trial of US-style primaries for some pre-selections – where non-members can vote on selecting candidates – and online membership participation in parties.

Also a good idea.

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