Declaring a personal interest in the Totnes ballot
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.