Stephen Franks, a man who has never placed a particularly high value on democracy, has some criticisms of Labour’s leadership road show. I know many on the left will dismiss his opinion out of hand due to his political stripes, but he does make some well reasoned arguments that are at least worth having a quick think about…
Internal candidate debating competitions are deeply flawed exercises in democracy. They cannot perform the main function of an election campaign. They cannot explore and expose the critical weaknesses of the candidates. If they did tease them out they would wound the party privately and publicly. Little damage is more long-lasting than the damage from publicised frank assessments of weakness by close colleagues. So intraparty primaries become competitions in public self praise, with little risk of contradiction. Sure there may be cunning allusion, comparison by emphasis. But formally the candidates can only highlight their own attributes, and stay away from the dangerous territory of exploring their competitors’ weaknesses.
John Pagani (who initially posted this article on Twitter, thanks for the heads up John!) is starting to agree with Franks on this matter….
There is a lot of truth in this criticism. After being initially joyful about the open contest, I’m having my doubts. It’s true that a genuinely open mutual scrutiny, as democratic elections require, is not really possible because of the potential for lasting damage.
I certainly see where they’re both coming from. We must remember that the caucus knows the four candidates much better than the party membership do. To send the candidates around the country campaigning against each other does introduce a large element of risk. Given that the media and party members they’re meeting don’t have a direct say in the leadership contest, one could argue that it is needless risk.
That said, I think there are two important points to note.
Firstly, it’s likely that the different camps would have snipped at at each other, via leaks, even if it had been a totally closed campaign. During the last three years Phil Goff was constantly on the back foot, fighting off internal leaks. It’s not helpful in the slightest. Perhaps at least by having an open campaign and getting these things out in the open, we would be able to counter act some of the back room skullduggery.
Secondly, I see the current road show as a stepping stone.