On or around the time Paul Nuttall resigned I penned an article in which I called for a more rigorous electoral procedure to be used for this leadership election and for the executive to take their time in determining what that should be. It didn’t happen and we are left with the same flawed process that has already produced two unsuccessful leaders. There is a real risk that the same thing will happen again. Additionally, the punitive and inaccessible financial bar to entering this contest may already have deterred that special person that could have taken over the reins from the inimitable Nigel Farage.
However, we are where we are, though it isn’t too late and within the rules to introduce a step that may correct some of the weaknesses in the process, and achieve that almighty task of reaching the members that don’t live and breathe social media, rarely check their emails and have no idea who the candidates are.
Despite the fact, that most candidates have some internet presence, most with web sites and most of those with some sort of manifesto, nobody is looking at this stuff and, more importantly, nobody is challenging it.
The Hustings do have a place, but they are limited affairs. In the last but one leadership election the eventual, but short lived, winner, ignored them, did no campaigning and won comfortably. Without a determined effort on the party’s part to broaden the appeal of the electoral process the same thing is likely to happen again. Regardless of ideas, regardless of innovation and regardless of suitability the eventual winner is likely to be the person with the biggest party profile amongst the members, many of whom do not engage in the election process until the vote, yet will be making the, all-important, decision, and about three-quarters of them won’t even bother to do that.
I would have included here the actual voting statistics from previous elections, and have asked for them, but without any response. In today’s UKIP, it’s easier to speak to God than it is to Paul Oakden.
Our electoral process rules out anyone who doesn’t have several thousand pounds to spend. Those that have entered, clearly have a passion, those that have entered, and paid from their own pockets really are committed, bearing in mind that the job we are all applying for is unpaid. However, restricting the initial field to only those who are of independent financial means and have cash in the bank is a poor move. The initial phase should be open to all.
It is a single step process which could, and probably will lead to multiple candidates on the ballot paper, thereby ensuring that the leader has the explicit support of only the smallest minority of members. This leads to the inevitable horse trading to reduce the field, but with no surety of success and an even less attractive outcome.
A multi-phase process is needed for such a pivotal role, along the following lines:
- Initial applications should be open to all, who would then be required to attend a training session so that the range and the complexity of the job can be explained and experienced, in part, through role play, Q&A and direct experience.A former leader could be a part of this phase. Some will drop out here.
- Candidates then prepare a manifesto which must cover specified areas. They then attend a second training and evaluation process where they are assessed on their skill set, challenged on their policy ideas and broad political knowledge. The assessors would ideally be third party professionals. Some will drop out here and some will be excluded here.
- At this stage, remaining candidates would then be asked to seek assenters to their application, as they do now, and prepare for the first round of elections. With this process and until this stage has been reached, there has been no obstacle preventing applications. It may even be considered as suitable training and assessment for future parliamentary candidate approvals, so many people may be attracted to apply for this reason alone.
- Remaining candidates would then be subject to a formal and recorded interview, which would emulate the expected first interview of the new leader that one might imagine would happen on the Sunday Politics, for example. If we could broadcast on a TV channel that would be best but, otherwise we’ll need some other methodology to reach the thousands of members who may not otherwise be informed. A well-respected journalist should be employed to do this.
- The first round of elections would then be held, incorporating electronic voting, for those who are able, and postal voting for everyone else. The top two candidates then go through to the final election stage.
- The final election to take place with just two, hopefully, better known and well scrutinised candidates.
However, we don’t have that system in place but could implement number 4 in the list and add the interview stage to the current process.
This would highlight inconsistencies in candidate’s statements and manifestos, challenge unsubstantiated assertions and draw out clarity from the obfuscation that currently prevails. It would also be in a format that could reach ordinary members. An independent TV channel perhaps, interned video, of course, even DVDs posted to members who have no internet facilities.
However, I don’t imagine that this will happen and we’ll do what we always do, but there is one appeal I can make to all constituencies, and that is to encourage your members to vote.
Email them, phone them, knock on doors, ask, ‘have you voted yet’. We know that GOTV works, so we do have an opportunity to dramatically increase turnout which in turn and, at least, would give the new leader a more visible and stronger support base than would otherwise be the case.