Labour should welcome new members not purge them

Labour’s attempts to block new voters and make them feel unwelcome is lunacy.

The election of a new leader for the Labour Party has sparked a lot of interest, in large part due to new rules for doing so.

The process of electing a political candidate is known as a ‘primary election’. In the UK, such votes are usually reserved for registered party members and known as ‘closed primaries’. This is in contrast to equivalent elections in the United States where, typically, anyone on the electoral role can vote for a party candidate, whether they are members of that party or not. These are called ‘open primaries’. Back here in the UK, the Conservative party have dabbled with open primaries for selecting some of their local MPs, most notably (and successfully) with Sarah Woollaston, the popular GP and MP for Totnes.

Labour have adopted a form of open primary for their current leadership election. You don’t have to be a signed up member of the Labour Party to vote for their new leader, you just need to subscribe to their values and pay £3. Thousands have done so.

Most political parties in the 21st century would kill to have people joining their ranks in droves. The Green Party’s biggest coup before the 2015 General Election was the surprise announcement of their record membership figures and the Liberal Democrats have repeatedly proclaimed the number of new members that have joined since their recent electoral battering. But Labour’s response to this surge has been to cry foul and purge.

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Politicians Hate Giving Straight Answers (but you can’t always blame them)

Few things that politicians do are more frustrating than their tendency to avoid answering questions properly. They could and should do better at this but the fault is not entirely theirs.

The usual reasons for this come down to one of two things: they’re afraid that giving an answer in either direction will be disagreeable to a certain group of voters and hedge that giving no clear answer will avoid offending either. Or, they simply don’t want to commit themselves in advance but don’t want to admit as such. Both reasons are lamentable and sometimes counterproductive.

Avoiding answering a question so as to not put anyone off is bad for democracy. It’s a deliberate act of concealment aimed at confusing the electorate into voting for something (people or policies) about which they have not been fully informed. Moreover, whilst the idea that this will improve a politician’s chances of winning votes may hold a certain logic in the short term – no policy may be better than one with which you disagree – it ignores the risk that you and all your colleagues appear as standing for nothing or, worse, trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

That politicians obfuscate and that this is bad will not be news. However, I don’t think we can lay the blame entirely at their feet.

Last week David Cameron was asked if he would stand for a third term. He said no and his answer was instantly headline news, discussed and debated at length on every media platform. It still is. Why did he say it? What was he trying to achieve? Was this a good tactic or a bad strategy? How dare he presume he’ll be in such a position?

The interviewer, the BBC’s James Landale, said that he is often prepped for an interview with subtle hints from press officers such as: “If you ask this particular question, you might just get an interesting answer…”. But in this case, he said, he was not. He just thought it was an interesting question so asked it.

Perhaps Mr Cameron had been desperate for somone to ask him this question and been carefully crafting his answer for weeks. Or perhaps someone just asked him a straight question and he gave a straight answer. No doubt the same can be said for many other headlines generated by the utterances of politicians.

Politicians deliberately wriggle their way out of questions all the time. It is to their shame and our misfortune. But, when every word they utter is poured over in such critical detail and endlessly analysed, it is perhaps not entirely their fault.

My Government Would Compel You to Vote

Whether or not you were pleased with the outcome of the recent vote on Scottish independence – and the odds suggest that you probably were – one thing we should all be happy about is the level of engagement and the voter turnout.

84% of the eligible population turned out to vote in the Scottish referendum. That’s a higher proportion than for any election in the United Kingdom since universal suffrage in 1918. It’s well above the 65% for the 2010 General Election or paltry 15% for the elections of regional Police Commissioners.

It makes sense that as engagement increases, so too will turnout. But might it not also follow that a higher turnout will bring higher levels of engagement?

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Thank the Lord for Reforms

At the end of the previous parliamentary session, some significant changes were made to the constitution of this country and you probably didn’t hear about them. News outlets widely ignored them and you’ll struggle to find anything much on Google either. But changes there were.

They may not impact your daily life directly but I still think they are significant and noteworthy.

The reforms related to our nation’s Upper House, The House of Lords, and as I understand them, are as follows:

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Lib Dems voted for their country (but their country didn’t vote for them)

Entering into a coalition with the Conservatives in 2010 was the right thing for the Liberal Democrats to do.

This may be anathaema to many: the Lib Dem loyalists who voted Clegg and got Cameron, and the liberal left who dreamed of a Lib-Lab coalition.

But the alternatives were worse: the numbers for a Labour pact weren’t really there, the chemistry apparently lacking and the risk of low credibility with a Prime Minister no one voted for. Meanwhile leaving the Conservatives to form a minority government in a time of recession would have been churlish.

In short, though there may have been plenty of self-interested motivations as well, the Lib Dems did what was best for their country.

In return, the country has taken them on a swift and brutal journey from “I agree with Nick” to #CleggsFault. For a party that polled so high ahead of the 2010 elections, the recent local elections were a huge fall and the EU results far worse. The party has taken a big hit and for what?

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Open Letter to Ed Miliband from a School Boffin

Dear Mr Miliband,

When I was at school my friends and I were regularly called “boffs” by the other kids, as in “boffins”. It was meant as an insult but we took it as a compliment i.e. that they thought we were clever. This, of course, probably proved their point but I think it also demonstrates something else and it is this that I wanted to write to you about.

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