Time to offer political parties a new deal – ‘reselect.org’

9:01 am - May 20th 2009

by Paul Evans    

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Both Labour and the Conservatives have moved to take away the whip – and effectively deselect – MPs that have offended public morality with their expense claims.

But is this really enough? Are we simply to be satisfied that a few examples are made of the most egregious cases of an abuse of parliamentary expenses and leave it at that? Or is there a wider crisis the the quality of representation that needs addressing?

I think that this provides us with a fantastic opportunity to renew the entire political class in the UK. It is time for us to think about how we can reinvigorate widespread participation in political parties – old and new. For this reason, I’d like to propose that we – the voters – offer the political parties a new deal. It runs like this:

“We will double the membership of the local party that we support – but only if they will let us re-select our candidate.”

I’ve outlined how I think this can work on a new website – www.reselect.org and I would urge you to do anything you can to promote this initiative.

We have to do our bit. By offering to double the size of constituency parties, we can present political parties with a renew-or-die offer. We are also presenting them with the lifeblood of real members – a far better source of sustenance than the wealthy donors that all of the parties have come to rely upon.

The advantages of this approach are numerous. Firstly, this crisis has – to date – been treated almost as a crisis of consumption. They – the providers – have let us – the customers – down. We have demanded a refund and an apology and once that’s out of the way, we may leave it at that.

I’d argue that a more energetic and active political culture would never have allowed this situation to arise in the first place.

Secondly, there’s the question of ‘Planet Westminster.’ For me, the most striking (and eye-opening) aspect of this has been the attitude to living standards and what is acceptable in public life. The Labour Party has seen the growth of a gilded selectorate – Ministers and MPs who have a face that fits – ones that have jumped effortlessly from University, via a Think Tank or Special Adviser role into a safe seat, and ending up in the ministerial limo.

This is a political culture that has almost no roots in local politics at all. These people usually didn’t live anywhere near the constituency that they represented and had no real experience in local politics, dealing with ordinary people about bread-and-butter issues.

This is a crisis for party politics – and one that it is not certain to survive undamaged. Personally, I’m firmly of the view that the UK is among the world’s least tainted political cultures at a point in history at which there has never been such a low level of corruption. Those who wish to see alternatives to party politics woke up this morning to news of the alternative offered by Esther Rantzen. A reminder that we should be careful what we wish for?

It’s time to entirely renew the culture of all of our political parties. It’s time for us to demand that they take the one-off step of asking their MPs to stand for reselection in front of a larger -and more demanding –  membership. 

This crisis has been cheered on by The Taxpayers Alliance and others who openly detest parliamentary democracy. Interestingly, the mover of the ‘no-confidence’ motion in the Speaker is the pro-Direct Democracy Tory Douglas Carswell.

And the touted replacement for Gorbals Mick? Tory Libertarian Richard Shepherd.

More on Slugger O’Toole, and Martin Bright’s blog.

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About the author
This is a guest post. Paul has blogged at his 'Id blog' Never Trust a Hippy since 2005, and has recently established the Local Democracy Blog with a number of local democracy / social media practitioners. He's also active in the Northern Irish blogosphere, promoting the Slugger O'Toole awards and working on a number of politics / social media activities in Northern Ireland.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Labour party ,Lib-left future ,Libdems ,Our democracy ,Westminster

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Reader comments

Surely if you double the size of a local party then by definition you become 50% of that party – just add one and your resulting majority can surely ensure that there is a reselection? You don’t need to ask!

I quite like this idea – even though you insist on couching it in such partisan terms.
What is the point of your final two paras?

Does the TPA detest parliamentary democracy?

What is wrong with direct democracy / greater localism?
Is that not one part of the answer to the “planet westminster” problem.

And Shepherd is well down the list, at least according to the bookies.
Who is touting him?

Direct Democracy does not equal greater localism. Quite the reverse. It equals the demagoguery of newspaper proprietors. But I’ll focus on your general support for the idea. Which party do you support, and would you consider initiating a campaign to double it’s size?

In what political parties do local members not get a vote on the re-selection of their MPs as candidates for upcoming elections? It’s not much of a ‘new deal’ if we’re only asking parties to offer something that they already offer!

Yikes, forgot to close the tag 🙁

Most parties don’t offer a fully open selection where there is a sitting MP and the rules generally give the incumbent an advantage.

Often, parties also have selection processes that are subject to heavy external interference from party apparatchiks, and well-resourced campaigns support candidates without much of a local link.

The real point is that things have changed recently – a lot of candidates will be fighting the next election having been selected by small enervated local parties. Waking those parties up, bringing fresh thinking in and using a reselection as bait will result in better candidates and better local parties.

It’s a nice theory, but even on the level of getting people to sign up to join parties in the current climate is quite unlikely I feel. People are disillusioned with the whole system of politics. It’s been happening for years and this is the straw. Reselection is a good start, but there is no guarantee that it means better politicians in the long run, at least not in the minds of the public…that’s why I feel this kind of thing is unlikely to gain steam, unfortunately 🙁

It’s a lovely idea. Positive and constructive.


In the Labour Party, sitting MPs usually only face reselection if local branches decide to trigger one. Alternatively CLPs can at any time recommend to the NEC deselection of their PPC, which in the current climate I imagine the NEC would look on very seriously indeed.

I like the general thrust of this idea – ie that rather than moaning from the outside, it’s better to get involved, join a party, select a candidate then campaign for her/him. I like the framing of a “crisis of consumption”. However, I think the specifics are completely impractical. There is no way a local party would not look on this as entryism, and long-established members would probably be very resentful if after years of service and after selecting a candidate themselves, a group of people joined up solely to select a candidate and the whole process was re-run to suit them.

It’s worth noting that most local parties are more flexible than people imagine. For example, locally if a Labour-voter-but-not-member had an idea for a campaign in their area and was willing to put some work into it (and obviously providing the idea didn’t run against Labour Party principles), our local party would be likely to invite them along to a meeting to suggest it, help them construct a campaign around the idea and provide resources (people, print, etc) to make it happen. So the case for getting involved in a political party doesn’t have to be solely about selecting a candidate, as important as that is.

Direct Democracy does not equal greater localism. Quite the reverse. It equals the demagoguery of newspaper proprietors.

I see – you’re another “democrat” who doesn’t trust people to vote the right way.

Which party do you support, and would you consider initiating a campaign to double it’s size?

I don’t support any. The last time I voted was for the idiot Brian Haw – the noisy git in Parliament Square who stood for election in my constituency (Cities of London and Westminster) – not because I agree with him (I don’t) but because I believe in his right to be a noisy git in Parliament Square. So I’m not sure I could successfully pass myself off as a supporter of any of the main three. My MP is also not able to claim for a second home so he hasn’t been able to fiddle much even if he wanted to. I live next door to the local Tory party chairman, so I could easily join them, but my heart wouldn’t be in it!

“There is no way a local party would not look on this as entryism, and long-established members would probably be very resentful if after years of service and after selecting a candidate themselves, a group of people joined up solely to select a candidate and the whole process was re-run to suit them.”

Under normal circumstances I’d completely agree with you here. The spectacle of one person turning up with 100 completed application forms and a cheque is completely unacceptable.

But it would be very different if there were a Facebook group with 150 people in it all saying “I’ll join ______ party in Anytown West if they agree to let me have a say in the candidate selection” – that would be a transparent way of recruiting widely. The parties would be able to see the range of people and what their associations were.

I’d love it if local parties were to take this idea and run with it in order to increase their membership – it’s not something that needs great tech or marketing skills any more.

Bear in mind that many active members will not understand the difference between the two scenarios though – lots may not understand Facebook etc especially some of the older members. And especially in Labour, the fear of entryism is rife even though it’s no longer a realistic fear.

What I think is more likely is that local parties use such a facebook group as possible recruits – people to write to and invite to events etc – and then the people who joined the group get annoyed because that’s not the deal they think they signed up for.

That’s where the Pledgebank element comes in.

I posted earlier on another thread

I thought Douglas Carswell enjoyed his day in the sun yesterday.

It was obvious in all the interviews that he was accustomed to being treated like a wacky nerd by his colleagues and in some ways he came across like that. But at other moments you began to wonder who wasn’t getting it.

He was certainly the only one with any kind of positive plan.

Perhaps his time has come (certainly his timing couldn’t have been better) and I think some of his ideas on restoring democracy to a “bottom up” rather than “top down” system deserve some rational discussion

In reply, I get a conspiracy theory that he wanted to replace Martin with his mate!!!

Get real.

In fact, David, I rather like your idea of trying to expand democracy at a local level- undoubtedly we would get better quality MP’s if they were not selected entirely by dedicated party functionaries who are happy with hearing someone spout a bit of received dogma.

I also believe Carswells ideas and proposed reforms are motivated by the same instincts as yours and the subject deserves rational debate- not tribal name calling.

Would you really want to join a local party that hadn’t *already* de-selected a corrupt and dishonest MP?

No, let the CLPs back which ever candidate they want.
And let the electorate judge them on their explanations for their expenses.

Ask the public right now if they’d rather have bloody Esther or a party hack who’ll slavishly obey the whip against the interests of their constituents, in the hope of advancement, and you might conclude that the current party system is also urgently in need of reform.

I’ve already doubled the membership of my local branch. Then I ended up Chair of it, I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing.

But, um, I’ve very happy with my PPC, she’s damn good, and was selected by a full ballot of all local members in a completely fair and open manner. Redoing that selection now would be completely pointless.

The local sitting MP is standing down, Labour’s just finished their PPC selection (oh, and might have to redo it again because there’s another appeal), the only way this would be any use locally is if the Tories did it.

Hmm, that’d be interesting. But not going to happen.

Reselecting candidates might be a plan in the seats where the sitting MP is planning on running again, everywhere else it seems fairly pointless.

CJCJC—Representative Democracy ensures all factors are balanced and taken into account, we currently have a very flawed representative democracy. Direct democracy frequently means that popular/populist measures get excess attention and funds while other issues get bugger all (State spending on health in California is a famous example, cancer gets too much money, mental health gets bugger all, but mental health issues cause serious knock on problems, etc).

I’d rather fix Parliament so it works, I’ve never been too keen on hemlock.

The idea’s sound on paper, but I can just *feel* the waves of indignant knee-jerk populism the moment it’s put into practice.

Also, wouldn’t be an issue in my seat; my LibDem PPC is well-known and trusted round here and the sitting Labour MP is, if nothing else, straight as a die. As regards our probable Conservative candidate – well, suffice it to say you’ll have problems flogging this one to otherwise moribund Conservative Associations that are nearly all made up of the biraderi.

18. Conor Foley

Sorry Paul, a nice idea, but the last thing that the current crisis makes me want to do is to rejoin the Labour party.

I agree with Conor Foley. All those years of past canvassing and leafleting – no thanks.

I like the idea of involvement. However the party structures themselves are now the problem (post Blair reforms), local parties do not have the clout other than to do the donkey work.

This particular crisis requires a direct dialogue between the MP and its constituency, right down to feedback on individual expense receipts.

One of the reasons for this acute anger is not just the state of the economy, it is linked to the bankers and more directly to issues such as utility bills. What did the MPs manage to achieve with the utilities? Did they just push it out for review? Its no excuse blaming Gordon, the question is what did you do about it and how far did you get?

Well it doesn’t really matter any more. You screwed up big time, and I for one am thoroughly sickened by it all. Come on just look at this Michael Martin business, do they really think getting him to resign covers their shame? Not in the least. He should have gone, but he should have been the last to go, after all the fraudsters and opportunists.

They can’t even get their politics right. Idiots.

I agree with you about the party reforms in the 1990s. They happened for a reason, but they were a case of ‘fighting the last war, not the next one.’

I’d be interested to hear what yourself and Conor are in favour of though. Being against things is very easy. In this context, what do you think the alternative to representative democracy in the context of a party system is. (You could always join the Greens, I suppose?)

I’d be astonished if you came up with anything that most left / liberals would prefer. Personally, I always quote MatGB (above) who left the best comment I’ve ever had in my own comments box. That direct democracy is where great thinkers are forced to drink hemlock at the whim of the masses.

Or Bill Thompson (also an occasional visitor to this parish, I think?) who once said to me that he’d rather have a fascist dictatorship than a ‘direct democracy’ – at least with the Nazis, you knew who was in charge….

The current top down structure is of no help at all. For a start we don’ have the full picture of who is or isn’t playing the system, and who has or hasn’t the appropriate connections uptop and at the constituency level. Even the chief whips are potentially suspect.

The system has to be taken out of the parties hands for now. And if that means the MPs are seen to be consulting directly with the electorate, then that has got to be a way forward. I do not expect it to be a painfree process, but it at least will demonstrate integrity. Those coming out at the other end relatively unscathed will have a stronger mandate than simply the backing of the constituency party or association.

With regards what MPs have done about the utility companies, one example, they do need to show that they have made the appropriate representations and demonstrate what stopped them getting their electorate a just outcome. Even if that means telling us of the promises made to them by the appropriate minister.

As for the local parties, they too need to show their worth. How they go about this is up to them, and a measure of their worth should become apparent at their annual conferences. I think the whole structure should be under scrutiny. We have left them too long dealing with themselves.

So in summary, for now all MPs to publish their own expense claims and not rely on the Telegraph. Allow feedback from their constituents right down to individual reciepts. This should give us the benefit of deciding what the public is willing to accept as a legitimate expense claim.

Deselection should follow thereafter, again based on public feedback. Clearly local parties have a role to play here, they should follow the public’s wishes and proceed accordingly.

So we just vote for people on what limited information we can glean about them at election time?

Sorry Refresh, but this is a suggestion that seems to completely ignore the reason that political parties exist in the first place, and it massively – and I do mean massively – overstates the willingness of most voters to engage in the political process.

Paul, I would agree under normal circumstances. But right now people will engage. Its a small window. And if the MPs are politically astute they will be able to remain engaged.

Beyond this period, party politics will be back.

Paul @ 20

Or Bill Thompson (also an occasional visitor to this parish, I think?) who once said to me that he’d rather have a fascist dictatorship than a ‘direct democracy’ – at least with the Nazis, you knew who was in charge…

Or we could just, y’know, have a liberal constitution that prevents anyone, whatever their ‘mandate’, from abusing, terrorising, murdering or otherwise interfering with the population. I’m not disagreeing with the notion that direct democracy could, if allowed, result in some very nasty outcomes, but I suspect that the solution to that problem would be to outlaw the nasty outcomes rather than to outlaw direct democracy. Not that I’m in favour of it, I just think your argument against it is pretty weak.

At the risk of being accused of trolling, can I petition that the title of this post be changed so that ‘political parties’ becomes ‘the Labour party’, on the basis that the suggestions outlined only really have any meaning for a party that doesn’t presently allow its members to re/de-select MPs, and since I assume we’re not talking about the Tories here, it can only apply to Labour?

I know you mean that as a bad thing, but I don’t think it is. Party politics are good. I don’t want a politics where middle-class people who have the time and have developed the skills to engage more have all the say.

gah, that was aimed at #23. Always happens when I don’t make that clear.

27. Conor Foley

Fair enough Paul.

I left Britain nearly 10 years ago, but kept up my standing order to the Labour party until last year. For the first few years this was a conscious choice. I had joined the Labour party at 15 and been an activist in its youth and student wings. Later I took time off work to help out in elections (in fact I think you sent me off to a key seat in 1997). I don’t need to go over why I got disillusioned with Labour in government, but I had largely ceased to be active as a member from the early 1990s. I agree with you about the need for the reforms to Labour’s internal decision-making in the 1990s. The previous structure had produced an entirely introverted party in which ‘power’ was concentrated in the hands of those who attended the most meetings. At the same time the diffusion of civil society meant that there were far more avenues for political campaigning than had existed when the party was founded.

By the 1990s, if you wanted to influence the Labour party (in government or opposition) it was far easier to do it through campaigns that aimed to shape the more general political climate – because the party would follow public opinion – which led to the rise in single-issue pressure groups. There are now far more people active in groups like Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth, Shelter, MIND, tenants groups, housing associations, penal reform groups, neighbourhood watch, the Women’s Institute, the Ramblers, etc. than in all the main parties put together. I think that type of political activity – outward-looking and aiming to improve your immediate environment and the wider world – is far more meaningful than spending all your time sitting in meetings devoted to ‘resolutionary socialism’.

The reaction to the current crisis (at least from where I can see it) seems much the same. Rather than joining political parties people are leaving them in droves. A positive outcome could be the launch of a cross-party campaign for political and constitutional reform (Charter88 mk II).

If I still lived in Britain, what I would like from a political party would be the ability to vote on who should be its leader and who should be selected to stand for election in my local constituency. For that I would be prepared to pay a notional sum of money as a membership fee. I would also be prepared to pay a sum of money, through general taxation, to fund the activity of all parties that had achieved a certain minimum level of electoral support (say 10%).

That is pretty much all that I want. If I want to gather with like-minded people for more focussed political discussion I can join pressure groups like the Fabians or Compass. There are also websites where people can exchange views. You can engage in discussions here or at Labour List, Conservative Home or the Drink-Soaked Trots depending on where you think you are most likely to find people who match your views or intellect.

I don’t think that party activists should be directly involved in writing manifestos, although I have nothing against holding a conference once a year to discuss other issues (membership fees, for example) and rally the faithful. Labour party conference used to be quite good fun – if you steered clear of Nick Cohen at the receptions.

I think that is what most people want from mainstream political parties and that is what the broad trend has been. The US system already resembles this and it is noticeable how much more interesting politics has been there than in Britain over the last few years.

@2: Direct Democracy […] equals the demagoguery of newspaper proprietors.

Thisi s only true if you think the people are sheep who will do whatever the newspapers tell them. If that’s true (and it isn’t), then we shouldn’t have elections at all, because the voters can’t be trusted.

The power of the newspapers has always been exaggerated, and they ae in long term decline now. We don’t live in the old world where a select elite of broadcasters were the only people to have a voice, and eveyone else could only listen. The Internet gives us all a voice.

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  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: Time to offer political parties a new deal – ‘reselect.org’ http://bit.ly/3wjEUf

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  4. Liberal Conspiracy

    New post: Time to offer political parties a new deal – ‘reselect.org’ http://bit.ly/3wjEUf

  5. CultureFeast.com

    reading: Time to offer political parties a new deal – ‘reselect.org’ http://tr.im/lReb

  6. iPolitics

    Liberal Conspiracy » Time to offer political parties a new deal – ‘reselect.org’ | http://bit.ly/17A3P #socialmedia #politics

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    Liberal Conspiracy » Time to offer political parties a new deal … http://cli.gs/Ju65hu

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