Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Tooting Primary

In my line of work, we always talk about that quintessential problem of getting Joe Public out to some community event on wet Tuesday evening. Well, tonight is the proverbial wet Tuesday (it's a slow steady cool rain), and I've just come back from a packed hall where both party members and unaffiliated local residents selected the next Conservative parliamentary candidate for Tooting.

We had two local candidates running - one is a councillor for a ward on the other side of the borough but who lives close by (Lucy Allan) and the other was Melanie Hampton - a woman who ran for councillor in Wandsworth's toughest seat for Tories - and well, lost. But other constituencies out there take note, she's a hard working campaigner - the never say die type - she doubled the Conservative vote and she's fun as hell to work with.

The third candidate was a young outsider - with some, but not recent, connections to the borough and Tooting Constituency - Mark Clarke.

Mark Clarke won. Melanie was also good, but Mark was a star on the night. Mark talked about all the reasons that you'd want to be a Conservative - giving people a hand up, equality under the law, valuing people's choices - including how they want to spend their money. He was funny and bright. I think he's got his finger on the pulse of this constituency and that he'll work hard to get to know it inside and out. And I think he's got a chance to win in this tough, tough seat.


Being a policy wonkish type, I have to say a little bit about the process. I'm a big fan of getting people together in a big old assembly hall and thrashing out who's going to be the nominee. The caucus system. I experienced my first Democratic caucus here in London (I gave up my vote in the Tennessee presidential primary to do so) - and it was fabulous. People were talking politics with one another and good-naturedly screaming and shouting and selecting delegates and it was great - and I left that caucus so fired up.

I did not think that the way the Conservative Party HQ was mandating open primaries to select constituency candidates was going to have quite the same effect. And it didn't - but the British are a reserved bunch - so they don't look to be fired up - they want to feel confident, perhaps enthused. And I think this open primary process helped to do that. We'll see how people are feeling later, but the buzz in the hall was good. The Vol-in-Law (who also participated in some of the earlier whittling down of prospective candidates) was feeling pretty enthusiastic.

The open primary works very differently from a Democratic caucus. For one thing, to be able to vote in caucus you have to be a member of the party and you have to be able to vote. I am a member of the Conservative party (but I didn't have to be) - and I'm not a British citizen, so I can't vote in a general election. But still I was able to vote in this process. I wasn't sure I should have been allowed to and I certainly wasn't sure that people who weren't Conservative party members should have been allowed to vote, but actually I think it worked out for the best - at least here in Tooting.


The open primary was held at the White Eagle Polish club in Tooting. The have a large narrow hall with a well used dance floor - it was a good choice of venue. Except - of course - the place is decked out in the red and white colors of the Polish flag - but also made the candidates look like they were up on some Labour platform, at least in my photos.

Mark Clarke
Mark Clarke, the winner tonight

Lucy Allan
Lucy Allan

Melanie Hampton
Melanie Hampton, a tough campaigner

The photos are a bit off because I used the high ISO function and not flash from the audience.


Vol-in-Law said...

Photos can't be too bad - Conservative Home is using your Mark Clarke pic. :)

Anonymous said...

I delighted with your participation in the process. People need to be involved to have good government. Your granddad would be so proud. VolMom

Praguetory said...

Thanks for your comment. Recess Monkey had previously encouraged people from outside the area to lie about their address so as to vote at the Tooting primary. They didn't want Mark to win. His latest post is jealous sour grapes.

Vol-in-Law said...

Recess Monkey wrote:

"The selection evening is at the Polish White Eagle Club on Tuesday 13th February. Call some Tory on 020 8944 0378 to register. You will probably need to be on the electoral register in Tooting to get cleared but I reckon it wouldn’t be illegal to pick a local address and make up a name, insisting you have just moved into the area."

Those Labour guys are mean. Anyway I'm glad we seem to have them worried. :)

Vol-in-Law said...

For Vol Abroad readers, PragueTory comments on the underhand tactics of Labour here:

Praguetory said...

Cheers for the link. I'll blogroll you in a bit.