Is Bedford the end of the ‘open primary’ experiment?

The Liberal Democrats have won the Bedford Mayoral elections and  a number of things need to be said. Firstly, congratulations to Dave Hodgson and those who assisted his campaign; secondly, it has to be questioned whether this will be the end of specifically the Conservative’s infatuation with ‘open primaries’.  By all accounts the Conservative candidate was a disaster and the local party was ‘at war with itself’ and was predicting its own defeat even before polls opened:

Senior Bedford Conservatives have slammed the party’s mayoral election campaign this week and admitted that they are heading to defeat just as the borough goes to the polls.

I have blogged before on open primaries and the problems with them which have obviously all spilled over here; the local party being isolated and ostracised for a candidate which according to accounts was not a good candidate. Indeed, the report cited above said local activists felt ‘kicked in the teeth’. Also, none of the supposed benefits of open primaries advanced by their proponents seem to have materialised in Bedford. Mike Smithson reports on the low turnout (rumoured to be around 30%) and notes;

All parties seem to be down.

So, it seems Bedford’s Conservatives suffered all of the pain for none of the gain.  No emotional attachment to the candidate yielded a significant dividend in an increased turnout nor did it garner the candidate the attachment he needed to win the contest for his party. Not only was the local party alienated but the wrong person clearly won as the candidate was, apparently, widely ridiculed and unable to coherently articulate his own parties policies. No wonder odds started to lengthen as the contest drew to a close.

Apart from the fact that open primaries greatly increase the role of money in politics (and are therefore more exclusionary than they first appear) they are also open to gerrymandering and making politics the province of well established cliques. One wonders what Iain Dale meant when he said;

The winner of the contest turned out to be Parvez Akhtar, who won on the first ballot. He had clearly mobilised his support better than the other candidates. One or two people were clearly accusing him of packing the room.

Iain has no problem with the possibility Parvez ‘packed the room’; I, on the other hand do, it is another illustration of  how open primaries are fundamentally flawed when it comes to addressing the deficiencies in our democracy most notably exposed recently by the expenses scandal.


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6 responses to “Is Bedford the end of the ‘open primary’ experiment?”

  1. David says :

    Bedford wasn’t an open primary, though, it was rather an open caucus. The only open primary the Conservatives have held has been in Totnes. A primary is a vote undertaken on a constituency-wide basis, not a meeting with a limited membership potential.


  2. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Well I stand corrected to a degree but that was not how it was reported. Regardless, I hope sincerely this is the end of this kind of thing.


  3. David says :

    “Well I stand corrected to a degree but that was not how it was reported.”

    …quite. The only open primary the Conservatives have done was in Totnes. The Tories have done a fair amount of misrepresentation of their selection proceedures.

    And it isn’t the end of this kind of thing — another is planned now, I forget where, but it probably isn’t that hard to find on google. I’d google “postal ballot” rather than primary, as the Conservatives label all their open selection meetings as primaries.


  4. darrellgoodliffe says :


    Noted, thank you for the correction. Shame it isn’t the end though….


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