Poll shows majority of British voters would welcome US-style primaries

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Six people out of 10 would take part in an American-style primary election to choose a parliamentary candidate in their constituency, according to a new survey.

Almost four in 10 people said they would vote in a primary even if they first had to pay £1 a year to become a registered supporter of their favoured party.

The YouGov poll was conducted for the Labour Uncut blog after Ed Miliband announced that Labour would choose its candidate for the 2016 London Mayoral election in a primary open to all Londoners who become registered supporters of the party.

Writing on The Independent’s website, Rob Marchant, of Labour Uncut, said primaries would help Labour avoid a repeat of the controversy over candidate selection in Falkirk, where the Unite union was accused of rigging the contest to secure the nomination of its favoured candidate. Labour later scrapped its disciplinary process after key witnesses withdrew their evidence. Yesterday, the Conservatives accused Mr Miliband of “backing down to his paymasters’ demands” after a review of Labour’s links with the unions suggested a delay in any move to dilute the unions’ 50 per cent share of the vote at the party’s annual conference and its 33 per cent share when Labour elects its leader.

Lord (Ray) Collins, Labour’s former general secretary, said in his interim report that plans for union members to “opt in” to backing the party financially would “take time to implement”.

He added: “We need to consider how, once this new system is in place, we would address consequences for other structures in the party, such as the conference and the electoral college to elect our leader and deputy leader.” Lord Collins suggested that primaries could be used in parliamentary selections when an MP is standing down or “where the local party has dwindled”.

According to YouGov, 60 per cent of the public would take part in an “open” primary in their constituency if registered supporters of their favoured party were allowed to take part. Only 20 per cent said they would not and 20 per cent replied “don’t know”.

Some 74 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters, 69 per cent of Labour supporters and 63 per cent of Tory supporters would take part. So would 77 per cent of members of unions affiliated to Labour, even though using primaries would dilute union influence in candidate selection.

Asked whether they would vote in a primary election if non-party members had to pay £1 a year to become a registered supporter, 38 per cent of the public said they would. Although 37 per cent would not, and 25 per cent replied “don’t know”, the findings suggests that thousands of non-party members are ready to play a part in choosing the candidate of the party they favour.

Some 50 per cent of Labour supporters say they would pay £1 a year and take part in a primary, as would 46 per cent of Liberal Democrat supporters and 38 per cent of Tory supporters.