Not Saussure

September 14, 2006

Patricia Hewitt’s proposal to sabotage Labour election

Filed under: hubris, Politics, Spin, UK — notsaussure @ 3:27 am

The Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, has had a bright idea;

The public should be able to vote for the next Labour leader, with contenders taking part in a series of debates, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt says. She has urged her party to “seize this opportunity” to reach people who would not normally take part in the process.

She continues,

“Imagine a leadership contest that brought together not just members but people who used to support us or might do so in future, to discuss our country’s response to climate change or social cohesion,” Ms Hewitt wrote. “At hustings across the country, candidates would discuss these issues with people from all sides of the debate, as well as with each other, in person and on the web. “Such an approach would not only help ensure Labour remains in touch with people’s concerns but also raise public understanding of the difficult decisions all governments face.”

Well, actually I can imagine it. I can imagine, for example, that some people who don’t necessarily have Labour’s best interests at heart might choose to participate in the vote, probably insisting that John Prescott be selected.

I can also certainly imagine what the internet discussion, at least, would be like; so can anyone who looks at what discussions on The Guardian’s Talk is Cheap Comment is Free usually turn into; as Tim Worstall noted a few weeks ago, enjoying the spectacle of one Philippa Ibbotson get a well-deserved mauling for an article that was phenomenally stupid even by CiF standards,

This commenting on things really is fun, eh? Where a few years ago such a piece might have got Pippa a few gentle congratulations from fellow bien pensants it now attracts the mob pointing out the foolishness of her opinions. Tastes and definitions of said foolishness differ, of course, but it must be something of a shock to some writers to find that the audience really rather disagrees with many of their opinions.

Add to this the international discomfiture that some juvenile characters caused Mrs Hewitt’s colleague David Miliband when they participated in his discussion a couple of weeks ago, and you can see the potential pitfalls with her idea.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m all in favour of politicians finding out what the electorate really think of them, preferably giving us all a good laugh at the same time. However, I’m not at all sure that Patricia Hewitt’s proposal is a sane way of choosing a leader of a political party, at least not one that wants to win an election, and certainly not a good way to choose someone who’ll be our Prime Minister for the next couple of years before we get a chance to turn him out.

Obviously, she doesn’t really want this or expect it to happen; even if it were a half-way sensible proposal, the Labour Party wouldn’t be able to change its constitution in time to set up a new system of balloting with a different franchise.

So why suggest it?

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