Communities determined to shake up the status quo: the political primary process evolves…

The volunteer team at East Wight Primary after their first packed community meeting

People’s primary organisers side-step party HQs’ attempt to block their new grassroots movement to unite the progressive vote.

South Devon Primary is a community initiative to unite the progressive vote around a single opposition candidate at the general election, healing the division which time after time hands victory to the Conservatives. The primary took place in the first two weeks of this month, with debates at 7 town hall Q&As, and selected Lib Dem Caroline Voaden with 78% of the vote. Progressive voters are now swinging behind Caroline’s campaign.

This innovative model is being replicated in five other constituencies where the Conservatives are otherwise predicted to win on a minority of the vote. More info:

Lib Dem party managers have now joined Labour HQ in barring their candidates from participating in primaries, despite the organisers being clear that their model avoids breaching any party rules by not asking losing candidates to step down. Primary cofounder Simon Oldridge says

“we have had such incredible public feedback about South Devon Primary, but we think the parties are fearful of the right-wing press misrepresenting their candidates’ involvement as indicating a desire to somehow co-operate. So we’re evolving the model to remove any need whatsoever for party involvement or approval.”

This upgrade to the model is being led by East Wight Primary which had to respond to the Lib Dem candidate being instructed to disengage from the process just days before their first town hall Q&A event. 

East Wight Primary’s (EWP) events proceeded anyway, with 2/3rds of ticket holders still showing up despite the candidates now being absent. One of EWP’s organisers, Charity Garnett, said

“Local people are fed up with the divide and rule reality in ‘safe’ conservative seats. Tactical voting is a sad necessity for millions of us, and local people are excited that by teaming up, we can take the guesswork out of tactical voting and actually make our votes count for once.  Despite the political parties’ determination to maintain the status quo, our supporters are excited to innovate and break the electoral deadlock. We’ve been overwhelmed by the support of local people, who despite the change of plan, are ready and willing to work together.” 

Features of the new Primary model:

  • Events will be scheduled closer to the election, once candidates are selected and have communicated with the public, and with manifestos available for scrutiny. 
  • Primary organisers will act as neutral brokers, collating and sharing the output of the candidates with subscribers, social media followers, and out on the high streets.
  • Primaries will now be entirely disconnected from the parties, with no HQ permission needed, and so no need for any complicated diplomacy.  
  • The winner can then expect the support of primary volunteers and supporters. The vast majority of progressive voters are non-tribal and just want to know which candidate everyone else is backing.

Primary cofounder Anthea Simmons said:

“Those working for the parties often have an (understandably) distorted view of the importance ordinary voters ascribe to them. The truth is that right now most progressive voters care a whole lot more about voting out the Conservatives than they do about which progressive party to support. Most people see that there’s far more that unites us on the progressive wing of politics than divides us and are focused on the goal of comprehensively removing a corrupt and cruel government.”

Cofounder Ben Long said:

‘Until we get PR, we are forced to create a sticking plaster for our broken electoral system. The new model that the Wight team has evolved detaches the primary process from the need for party endorsement and returns power to the hands of those who should hold it – the electorate. A community decision on which candidate to back is empowering for the electorate and clarifies the tactical vote in seats where it would otherwise be difficult to call.”

Simon Oldridge argues that,

“whilst it’s a shame for voters not to be permitted the opportunity to question the candidates, other benefits more than compensate, and we think the East Wight Primary team have really hit the jackpot with this new idea”. The remodelled primary will be simpler, cheaper to run and will eliminate the need for potentially complicated diplomacy with the parties. “Most of all”, says Oldridge, “this new model will be unstoppable: the people rightly taking back control of politics from the party apparatchiks, so it’s no surprise that we find ourselves inundated by requests to run primaries in the progressive tragedy seats. Whether party HQs like it or not, communities around the nation are organising to use their combined voting power to elect MPs who better represent the shared interests of the progressive majority.”