The Independent reports that the Institute for Government have published a report (which can be read here) suggesting more benefits should be accorded 'wannabe' MPs, including a statutory right to time off work and state funds to cover loss of income as part of proposals to make parliament more diverse, along with US-style "open primaries" to allow ordinary voters to participate in selecting parties' candidates for Westminster.
From the report we learn that the main concerns are
- Increase the diversity of parliamentary candidates
- Improve public participation and interest in politics
- Ensure candidates have the right skills for the job
- Minimise conflict between party leaders and grassroots supporters
In greater detail the measures proposed are:
- Diversifying the supply of candidates, and of those participating in politics generally
- Taking action to address the barrier of cost for people wanting to stand
- The development of means-tested bursaries for candidates in major parties
- A right to time off work for participation in election campaigns
- More use of primaries, especially in safe seats where incumbent MPs are retiring
- Developing a “hybrid” system where the general public makes the final decision but party members choose candidates and HQ over-sees the process
- State funding for postal primaries or similar methods to boost participation, as the coalition committed to doing in its Programme for Government
- Trialling of primary processes during candidate selection for Police and Crime Commissioners and mayoral elections
In response the following observations can be made:
- Whenever the subject of diversity arises, recent history shows that there is only one group of our society that foots the bill and that is the taxpayer. The public are quite able to choose the candidate they like - regardless of ethnic origin - and don't require a set of rules so to do.
- The only method to increase public participation - and thereby their interest - in politics would be to provide the means of participation on a daily basis, instead of five-yearly - in other words by introducing a participatory form of democracy.
- The right skills required to become an MP is debatable, but in any event it is for the public to decide which applicant should proceed to candidature stage by means of an open primary system of selection - and that should not just be confined to safe seats, but all seats.
- That steps should be taken to minimise conflict between party leaders and grassroots supporters is the most stupid suggestion of the entire proposal - and in any event, how could this be legislated for?
- If political parties wish to put forward candidates for election, then let those parties fund them and provide their necessary living expenses. Why should potential MPs receive time off work when those candidates standing in local elections have to campaign in their own time?
- An argument can be made for political parties choosing those that are put forward for selection as their representative, if elected, however if the process is to be overseen then it should not be by party HQs but the Electoral Commission - and their costs can be paid by the respective party too.
- As with postal voting, postal primaries will be just as liable to fraud and therefore should not be countenanced.
- Trialling of the primary process is pointless - if the system used is carefully and properly devised then there would be no room for error or unfairness.