UPDATE 20 September 2009

I congratulated the Tories in North Cornwall on their open selection of parliamentary candidates a couple of years ago — the original post is below.

Now read this in today’s Bedfordshire on Sunday.

Nothing’s simple, is it? In 2007 I thought open selections were an expansive democratic idea. I still do. It would be reasonable to exclude members of other parties from the open selection meetings, if practical, though I don’t think that would solve this Tory dispute. Is this a one-off or a harbinger?


Conservatives in the North Cornwall constituency have chosen an “open primary” meeting as the way to select their prospective parliamentary candidate. See here.

Three candidates have been selected by the usual party method and from these the parliamentary candidate will be chosen. As I understand it, any voter, whatever their own politics, in North Cornwall can pre-register with the North Cornwall Conservatives and then go to the meeting on 9 July and vote for their preferred Conservative candidate.

This open primary method potentially involves a wider public than just Tory party members and participation, or the possibility of it, may well encourage them to vote in a general election for the Conservative. Of course, people who do not support the Conservatives can presumably attend the meeting and vote for the candidate they think most likely to lose in a general election or the candidate nearest to their own non-Tory views. However, all the candidates are pre-selected by the party so there is a safety net for the party.

This open primary meeting, common in America, is a bold step by the Conservatives. They are pushing the frontiers of democracy forward and making the routine, closed methods of selection by other parties (and other Conservative parties) look old-hat and unacceptably exclusionary. It will be interesting to see how this works out and how many people who are not members attend but I, an enemy of Conservatism, admire their radicalism here and wish them well with their open primary meeting. They are, I hope, showing us the future of selection meetings.

At this point I should also say I think Gordon Brown’s reaching out to those outside the Labour party is a welcome inclusionary step. Democracy is growing up.