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Published by Ian Williams

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Published by: Ian Williams on Jul 12, 2013
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Primary Blues
Wrong in principle and pernicious in practiceby Ian WilliamsFriday, July 12th, 2013The New York Labour Party International branch has just reconstituted itself. In the old days,many of its members saw their task as greeting visiting New Labour dignitaries, seizing their rose-tinted glasses and holding onto them untilthey left. Senior MPs came to study (heaven help us) the American prison and healthcaresystems, for example. In their happier moments together, weeven greeted Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, come to study Bill Clinton’s electoral successes.Now we hear that Ed Miliband has imported a minor Chicago ward-heeler, Arnie Graf, to emulateBarrack Obama – and that he advocates “open primaries”. There is something inherently slavishin this deferential abasement before American ideas – not least when one sees the results of those ideas: the only country apart from Somalia with no paid maternity leave, no sick pay, noentitlement to holiday pay and poverty levels unsurpassed in the industrialised world. It is truethat Obamacare has dragged the health system in the United States kicking and screaming toabout the same place Bismarck brought Germany at the end of the 19th century, but thecompromises to the powerful health insurance lobby have almost crippled it at birth. The power of those lobbies derives very much from primary elections, not least the latest fashion for openprimaries which Graf is recommending. They constitute the major route by which moneyexercises its pernicious influence in American politics. It is the need of a presidential candidate toraise a billion dollars that forces Obama to give the banks, insurance companies and others somuch sway in decision making.If Americans register to vote, they can declare whether they are registered Democrats or Republicans, or one of the lesser parties. Some register as independents. Originally the idea wasto take selections of candidates out of the smoke-filled rooms of Tammany Hall-style corruptcabals. Registrationdoes not involve any payment of dues, or commitment to ideologies, nor giveanysay in framing policies, but it doesallow voting in the primary elections to select the parties’candidates.Thecandidates run in their own right, without party support. That means that the individuals whorun have to raise their own cash. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, previously registered as aDemocrat, decided to run on as a Republican because there were so few registered Republicanvoters in NewYork – it was easier for him to buy the nomination.Primary elections swallow cash: they involve television and radio adverts, paying campaignwor kers and all the costs of a general election – which the candidate have to raise themselves.Unsurprisingly, they usually raise it from people who have money. In other parts of the US, theymoved to open primaries as pushed by Graf on a receptive Labour leadership. In the Britishcontext, this means that Tory and Liberal Democrat supporters can vote in the selection of theLabour candidate. As in all primaries, it means that monied interests can swamp a contest to stopanyone they see as a threat – which one hopes would include almost any Labour candidate mostof us would like to see elected. The examples in the US are so egregious that the idea should bedismissed almost immediately.But then, we have our own examples. Lord Levy allegedly bankrolled Tony Blair’s leadershipcampaign, in which all party members voted, because it was “good for Israel”. John Prescott hadto pay his own expenses. Imagine the costs of running public campaigns. Wrong in principle andpernicious in practice, the Labour Party needs primaries like it needs Silvio Berlusconi as a

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