Wednesday, 15 July 2009

More democracy = less diversity? Cameron's selection headache.

Might David Cameron’s scheme to select Conservative candidates for Westminster through open primaries be incompatible with his aspiration to make the parliamentary party more representative? That’s the implication of Andrew Sparrow’s article on the Guardian politics blog, which cites evidence that women are less likely to succeed when primaries are the method of selection.

The Conservative leader is already committed to trialing the new procedure in the Totnes constituency which, having returned a Tory majority in 2005, must be considered a reasonably safe seat for 2010. But by undertaking to give local people more say in choosing a candidate, is Cameron compromising on diversity?

It is an interesting proposition, but an open postal ballot is being used in Totnes for the first time. Necessarily the research on primaries must be based on a fairly limited number of instances when the process was used, even if open meetings are considered. We’ll have to wait until the method is employed on a consistent basis, and properly publicised, before its effects can be fairly judged.

Then the conceptual conundrum will be – does it matter if fewer women are selected, if the final candidature is based on popular democratic support?

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