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Declaring a personal interest in the Totnes ballot

Michael Crick | 17:09 UK time, Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Perhaps I should declare something of a personal interest in the story of the Totnes ballot, since about 35 years ago, when I was a teenage schoolboy, The Guardian published a letter of mine advocating the use of US-style primary elections by the British political parties in their selections of Parliamentary candidates.

I wasn't, of course, the first person to suggest this - and by no means the last. Indeed in the last few weeks, in the wake of the expenses scandal, it has become a pretty popular idea as a means to help reform British politics.

On Newsnight tonight I report on how the Tories in Totnes have come the nearest to fulfilling this idea in Britain, as they try to choose a successor to Anthony Steen, who has been forced to step down as an MP at the next election over his expenses.

At huge cost the party has sent out postal ballots to every voter in the south Devon constituency asking them to select, from a shortlist of three, the candidate to represent Totnes Conservatives next time round.

Indeed he or she will probably become the next MP for Totnes.

The trouble is that the process down here in Devon has been rushed. Candidates haven't had the time to organise big campaigns, and voters haven't been given a varied choice.

So the turnout may not be that high when the result is announced next Tuesday, with the danger that what could be a bold, exciting development in British politics is quickly discredited.


  • Comment number 1.

    was it David Penhaligon the Liberal MP for Totnes who was so tragically killed in a road accident, or am I mistaken?

  • Comment number 2.

    i am resident of tq5 whicch is approximately 7 miies from totnes , icome under soth hams ? i would love to vote --- but i have not even been told that their is aby election in my parliarmentiary constituency ??? i would like my vote to be counted ... even though i dont know who the choiches are aparyt from my local paper i see that mr bye wantsto be my m.p . can anybobody enlighten me p.s. sorry iam not used to tchnology but i can spell honestly cheersd steve.

  • Comment number 3.

    FROM [Personal details removed by Moderator]

    I am a resident of TQ5OLG , Mr Steen was our elected party member ,
    Why do i view on television tonight Tues 28th july 2009 that i am unaware
    that there is a by - election a part from my local rag and your good selves , i have not had any literature informing me of any forth comming
    hustings to gain Steens seat.
    Is this because this is our postcode ????

  • Comment number 4.

    Amother good preformance by NR but one small niggle. Groups (or pairs) of men should (at least on the BBC) be addressed as 'gentlemen' The American usage 'you guys' is over familiar but 'gents' makes them sound like a run-down public convenience in a seedy part of town. Shudder! Perhaps you should revise your style book.

  • Comment number 5.

    David Penhaligon was MP for Truro & St Austell in Cornwall.
    Not Totnes (Wrong side of the Tamar)
    He was killed in a car crash tho'
    Current Truro & St Ausrell MP is Matthew Taylor (Lib Dem)


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