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Open Primaries

The Issue: Political parties have been experimenting with new ways to select candidates, 'open primaries'.

The Facts: Open Primaries are held before elections and enable the public to vote for their preferred candidate of a political party. As the name suggests, anyone can vote in an open primary, including members of opposition parties.

Open Primaries are not the established method for selecting candidates, local members of political parities usually choose candidates for elections. But this method has recently been criticism since only a small number are included in the decision making progress.

The Jury Team (coalition of Independents) ran open primaries in March and August this year to select candidates for their Euro Election campaign. Members of the public were able to vote for their favourite candidate by text message.

The Conservatives recently used open primaries earlier this month to select their candidate in an upcoming by-election in Totnes, Devon. In the open primary, the entire population of the constituency (69,000) was eligible to vote. Around 25% of Totnes' population voted and selected a local GP.

After the MPs' expenses scandal many have called for electoral reform in both the House of Commons and Lords. Some people argue that we should use open primaries in the UK.

The Case For: The major advantage of open primaries is that they enable the public to select their own candidates. Open primaries are arguably more democratic then the current selection procedure of members of the local party choosing candidates.

Membership of political parties and voter turnout has plummeted. Open primaries have the advantage of getting individuals involved who otherwise wouldn't. They should also hopefully increase voter turn out.

Currently all three main political parties are campaigning for electoral reform and some members of the Conservatives and Labour party support open primaries. 

  • The Labour organisation Progress, have set up their own campaign for Labour primaries entitled Primetime.
  • The Secretary of State, David Miliband supports open primaries.
  • The Lib Dems currently advocate electoral reform; their current campaign is Take Back Power. They have not stated their views on open primaries.
  • Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives declared the Totnes open primary a complete success. Some Conservatives have suggested the possibility of replicating the recent open primary in Totnes, in other areas of the country. 

The Case Against: Open primaries are expensive. The Conservatives spent £40,000 in Totnes. Many people believe that open primaries are not financially viable to replicate in all UK constituencies and accuse the Conservatives of using open primaries as a political gimmick.

Since anyone can vote in an open primary, there is a possibility that supporters of other political parties could sabotage elections by voting for a weak/unsuitable candidate.

The Electoral Reform Society is against open primaries. They praise the Conservatives for experimenting with new methods, but believe that open primaries will do little to make parliament more accountable and transparent.

Some bloggers on the Fabian Society website Next Left are also against open primaries.

Have your Say: Do you think that political parties should hold open primaries in constituencies across the UK? Do the benefits outweigh the cost? What electoral reform policy do you support? Fill in the form below or send us an email to and let us know your views.

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