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Big turnout in Totnes primary

Michael Crick | 18:08 UK time, Monday, 3 August 2009

The Conservative Party will announce tomorrow lunchtime the winner of their open primary in Totnes, which I covered on Newsnight last week.

The ballot closed at 5pm this evening.

It was the first time that any British party has conducted a postal ballot of all voters in a Parliamentary constituency to select its Parliamentary candidate. So 69,000 Totnes voters had the chance to have a say, whether they were Conservative members or supporters, or not.

Three people were in contention - Nick Bye and Sara Randall Johnson, who are both local governemnt leaders in Devon, and a local GP Sarah Woolaston.

But the more interesting question is not who wins, but how many people voted. The exercise must have cost the Conservative Party at least £40,000, so they will be hoping for a turnout many times in excess of the several hundred members who would attend a traditional selection meeting.

The Conservative Chairman Eric Pickles has said a 15 per cent poll - just over 10,000 voters - would be a good turnout in Totnes, and this evening Conservative officials are fairly confident that they have reached that figure. If so, its by far the largest number of people ever to have participated in a British Parliamentary candidate selection.

After a campaign that has been pretty rushed, I reckon that if the 15% turnout figure is achieved then the Conservatives can indeed claim it to be a successful exercise, even if it has cost them £4 a vote, or more.

Votes will be counted by Electoral Reform Services in London tomorrow morning, in view of representatives of the three candidates (if they choose to send them). It is expected that the result will be announced in Totnes around noon.


  • Comment number 1.

    I apologise for going gently off topic here, but in the context of politics generally at the moment, and what's happening in Westminster, what on earth is this all about:

    Am I going completely mad, or is the whole of our political class and its coterie of bureaucratic hangers-on taking us all for complete mugs?

    I'm not really concerned about fancy new ways of doing politics in Totnes whilst I read BBC headlines declaring, "The House of Commons has awarded significant pay rises to its senior officials, including some of those who oversaw the MPs' expenses scandal".

    Rather than get excited about a "Big Turnout in Totnes Primary", I could weep.

  • Comment number 2.

    Really pleased that the BBC are highlighting thid issue when it is being totally ignored by the rest of the mainsream press. Just goes to show that the BBC and the Conservatives are the best hope for democracy in this country.

  • Comment number 3.

    I suggest the Tories do the same when labour try to gerrymander Mandelson into a safe seat.

  • Comment number 4.

    #1 Hear, hear!

  • Comment number 5.


    Westminster is not governance, it is a game played by parties, with us as pawns. Those who rise high enough in the Westminster Game, move on to the World Game - a larger board but still not about the wellbeing of the 6 billion pawns. Money = power; power = money. Small wonder that politicians are obscenely rewarded for failure and promoted for incompetence. (And that saving the banks was paramount.)

    Universal suffrage (the manipulation of the gullible mass by the crafty few) intalled the Westminster Charade. The small rump of voters still active, are presumably the dumbest of the dumb, who can still be bought with their own money - and fail to notice.

    As I have posted, ad nauseam: voters need to pass a test of competence (not unlike an immigrant becoming a citizen!). Let's enshrine the concept of the CITIZEN VOTER. But as a preliminary measure, to make such a move towards sustainable, viable governance possible, vote-in INDEPENDENTS at the next election. If we get a critical mass in Westminster they can SPOIL PARTY GAMES.

  • Comment number 6.

    Disappointing to see this blog has only 5 comments.

    In the end we have voted in all the politicians we now find are self serving rather than electorate serving.

    Here is an opportunity for voters to have more of a say in who becomes a candidate and the silence is deafening.

  • Comment number 7.

    Out of the three candidates how many have actually held down a job in the real economy? Two local government leaders and a GP does not consitute a choice as far as I am concerned; they all suck at the teat of the taxpayer.

    However first prize to the Tories for trying it.

  • Comment number 8.

    Open primaries are definitely the way forward in selecting candidates for elections. The evidence from Totnes suggests that it is potentially a good way to get voters more engaged with the political process. It should not be seen, however, as a way of heading off widespread calls for replacing the first-past-the-post system with a form of proportional representation. The Tories are vehemently opposed to PR, so maybe that's why they're pushing the idea of primaries.

    If we choose to adopt primaries as the norm, then the running of them should not be left to the corrupting influence of the party machines. There would have to be some form of regulation and oversight which, unfortunately, would cost money.

  • Comment number 9.

    Very Interesting stuff thanks,Ill write about it in U.S>


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