Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Participatory democracy isn't dead - it just needs reviving!

Several months ago, when news of Sir John Stanley's retirement was spreading, but before the Association had even started discussing arrangements for the selection, I received a call from a resident urging us to hold an Open Primary. The caller wasn't known to us; he wasn't a member or donor (at least not since I have been agent) and I had never met him. He was a businessman who obviously cared about politics and the democratic process. He spoke eloquently and passionately about opposition voters in "safe" seats being effectively disenfranchised and the need for all parties to re-engage.

At the time of his call I had already convinced myself of the need to open-up the process but I had not raised the proposal of an Open Primary with any others, apart from a few close confidants who I use as a sounding-board. This man's call encouraged me to do so.

When the Open Primary was subsequently approved (and let me stress this  - it was approved unanimously by the Management Committee and by over 90% of the Executive; it was not forced upon us by CCHQ or anyone else!) he wrote again to congratulate us. He then drove around the various street stalls a week last Saturday to meet the candidates, finally catching up with me on Tonbridge High Street. We spoke in general terms about the process and what we hoped it would achieve and he said he looked forward to attending and casting his vote.

Then yesterday, this letter arrived along with a very welcome donation towards our costs. Obviously I have removed any personal information.

If any more evidence were needed that Open Primaries are not only more democratic, but also able to bring people into the process who were not previously involved, then this is it. I have no idea if this resident will join or donate again; that is almost irrelevant. And his donation, however generous and welcome, has only covered small part of our costs. What this represents however, when taken with the fact that over half of those attending are not paid-up members, is that participatory democracy is not dead. The interest is still there - we just need to find the language and the message to reignite the flickering embers.

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