A fortnight back, I looked at the idea of “Open Primaries”, which is being trialled by the Tories in the Devon constituency of Totnes. It’s an idea which is also generating interest within the Labour party, and, as I suggested, brings with it the potential for mischief making.
The progress of this exercise – giving the whole electorate of the constituency a say in the selection of the next Tory candidate – was examined in a report on last night’s BBC2 Newsnight, filed by Jeffrey Archer’s favourite investigative reporter, Michael Crick. And it confirmed my previous thoughts.
In Totnes, the party hoping to benefit from any slip in the Tory campaign is the Lib Dems, who appear to be rather more keen on working the constituency than they are right now in Crewe and Nantwich. And they have hit on the thought that the turnout for this experiment in democracy may be low – low enough for a concerted effort from their activists to make a difference.
So the Lib Dems are urging a vote for the current mayor of Torbay, Nicholas Bye, on the grounds that he is the most beatable of the three choices on offer. This might have something to do with Bye’s Liberal past – he stood as Liberal candidate for Torbay in 1987.
With the candidates constrained by a modest promotional budget – which on first inspection looks a sensible measure – the potential for lack of voter recognition, and therefore apathy, may be strong. So the Lib Dems could well swing the primary and get their preferred opponent exactly where they want him.
Will Young Dave be so keen on this wheeze after Totnes? I’ll be watching.