It appears that Ed Miliband want to introduce US-style primary elections:
Ed Miliband used his crunch speech on union funding to announce that a ‘primary’ will be held to pick Labour’s candidate for the London mayoral election.
A step short of allowing every Londoner a say, it means that ‘registered Labour supporters’ as well as party members, would be allowed a say.
Lord Adonis, a former Transport Secretary and a key adviser to Ed Miliband, told HuffPost UK he expected the policy to be expanded across the country.
I’m not a great fan of primary elections because it gives people even less reason to be a member of a political party (selecting candidates is one of the few things you can do as a member without becoming an activist). However, I can see there are some arguments in favour of them, too.
However, there are quite a few practical problems associated with transplanting this American idea to Europe.
Firstly, in the US it’s the state that as part of the ordinary voter registration collects the information about party affiliation, and primary elections are typically conducted in the same way as real elections. However, I presume Labour are planning to collect the information themselves, and I think that’s going to be very hard. How many people are realistically going to contact the Labour party to tell them they’d like to sign up as a registered supporter? Especially given that Labour are very likely to use the contact details to pester the supporters for money.
Secondly, I can see how the American system prevents people from registering as supporters of more than one party. However, if the parties handle the registration themselves, nothing would seemingly prevent members of other parties from signing up as Labour supporters in order to hijack their selection processes. This wouldn’t be very nice, of course, but politics can be a very dirty game at times.
In short, I cannot see how primary elections can work without including party affiliation on the electoral roll.