A third of the seats on Wirral Council are up for election next year and the Conservatives are experimenting with an open primary for one of them. All voters in the Leasowe and Moreton East Ward can register to be sent a ballot paper. They will also be sent the details of those Conservative members wishing to stand and and some information about them. The Ward is traditionally Labour but has one Conservative councillor already and so is a target for another gain in next May's elections.
The initiative has been welcomed by a leader in the Liverpool Echo which says: "Politicians need to reach out to the public as never before – and these are steps in the right direction."
As I understand it will be a postal ballot rather than a public meeting – which seems a pity. I suppose there will be a higher turnout but surely you need to be able to see someone and hear how they respond to questions to judge them?
I can also see more general practical objections to the primary system for council candidates. What if there is a shortage of credible candidates coming forward? What if the number of ordinary voters in a single ward wishing to take part choosing a council candidate is derisory compared to the numbers across a whole constituency choosing a putative MP? What if an individual is turned down for one ward and then chosen for another instead? With the whole process out in the open they could be attacked by opponents as a "reject from xxx ward."
For all this I think it is a welcome initiative. The practical objections may well be surmountable. The process itself could well encourage more supporters to be interested in standing. Even those ward residents who don't take part may appreciate being given the opportunity to do so. Rival parties who don't operate an open primary system could well find themselves ill advised to snipe at a system which gives ordinary voters more say. the age of deference – if it ever existed – has gone. "We know best," is not a message voters still accept from politicians.
Cllr Ian Lewis, the sitting Conservative councillor in the ward concerned, says: "We want to open things up." The initiative is in line with greater openness, accountability and localism. I also suspect it may well help the Conservative to gain this extra seat.