Morgan on The Campaign Company Blog makes a comparison between how British political parties have traditionally picked our candidates and how they do it in the United States:
In the UK, understanding the rules, knowing who the key influencers in a constituency party are and the ability to count votes. These are the skills necessary to win a nomination for a safe seat. Nothing that actually makes you a good politician.
In the US the primaries sorts the good from the bad much more quickly and involves more people. I have a problem with the quantity of money expended in the US but the principle of testing your candidates in the real world rather than just by choice of the faithful is a correct one.
Admittedly my experience of standing as a candidate has only been at local level rather than going for a regional or parliamentary seat, but I’d have to say that what experience I’ve had has been slightly different to the one that Morgan sets out. And I’d also say that the skill set that he identifies for British politicians seems quite relevant for doing part of the job should you get elected.
To get selected you of course want to be on good terms with those you believe can help ensure you have the best chance of winning selection, but to do that you need to be convincing. You have to exhibit the skills that will mean you can convince the uncommitted voter to come out and vote, and that once you’re elected that you’ll represent the interests of your community better than the next candidate.
In any case I can attest to the level of nervous tension in a room of potential candidates even facing a ward selection meeting. None of us ever felt it was completely in the bag even where we were the sitting councillor and we were assiduous councillors.
I also have to say that I think it’s a bit naive to think that American politicians are any less number aware than we are. The different scale on which they work mean they have much bigger paid staff, do more polling and refine their messages much more than your average British politician.
I also wonder whether their political class is as diverse as ours? Are their as many people from working backgrounds making it into the Senate or Congress or even at State level. I genuinely don’t know, but suspect that the amount of money needed to run nationally makes it harder to break into politics than it is here.
Recently we’ve seen the Conservatives adopt some of the American processes for selecting some of their candidates, though without much widespread public enthusiasm it’d seem to me. Though, James – who has been through that process – may have a different view.
As I hope will be obvious to anyone who is familiar with this blog will know I’m very much in favour of greater public engagement in politics, and that would include being open to a wider involvement in choosing our candidates.
But the idea that we should use America as a template doesn’t greatly appeal.
Finally, just a reminder of an earlier post about why politicians aren’t the best of the best.