Britain's political parties can learn from other countries' presidential primaries to make systems for selecting party leaders, writes Scott Cresswell.

With the battle for the top job in British politics heating up, and as just 160,000 Conservative members prepare to vote for our next Prime Minister – less than half a per cent of the UK's electorate – it's time to acknowledge what many UK citizens must be thinking: There has to be a better way to elect our leaders. Whether it be Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss, our next PM will be chosen by a miniscule fraction of voters.

The UK's system for electing leaders is in need of reform. Not only is the public largely denied a voice in who should lead our parties, but elected leaders often don't represent the views of voters. Creating an electorate between the party members and the general population – a group of 'registered supporters' – would make leaders more accountable to the public, and therefore, more representative of the public's views.

Some constitutionalists may consider the idea of 'registered supporters' a jump towards the American primaries system, but it could be the cure to the current democratic deficit. Currently, all parties in Britain are led by leaders appealing to a 'selectorate' group of MPs, party members, or affiliates. There is little accountability with the voters until a general election. It's high time voters had more influence over choosing leaders.

A 'registered supporter' would not be a paid-up member or affiliate of any party – they'd simply be an ordinary member of the public who voted for a particular party at a previous general election. Think of it: those 13.9 million citizens who voted in Tory at the last election would be eligible to vote in this current leadership contest. Conservative voters would get a say in who should lead the government they elected.

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By requiring candidates to garner not only the support of 10 per cent of their elected parliamentary colleagues, but also 50 per cent of the party's registered supporters in the candidate's constituency before they reach the party's national ballot, we could reconnect national politics with local sentiment, thus reengaging voters in the pressing issues of the day. Requiring local support would mean every candidate on the ballot would be a promising constituency MP.

From there, the successful ballots would go forward into a contest for the votes of not just MPs and party members, but registered supporters. Voters would ideally vote for candidates in order of preference until a successful candidate receives the backing of at least 50 per cent of voters. This will ensure the new leader has the support of ordinary voters as well as MPs and members.
In addition, it should be possible for 'registered supporters' to submit votes of no-confidence in leaders if they see fit. Currently, no-confidence votes are limited to just MPs, but that should be expanded to members and 'registered supporters' to hold leaders to account.

Additionally, such a system would forever do away with the problem of leadership being decided by default or by a mere handful of votes. For example, in 2016, Theresa May was elected Tory leader by 199 MPs, without a membership ballot. And most outrageously, Gordon Brown was effectively crowned Labour leader (and Prime Minister!) without a contest in 2007.
Despite a small electorate in leadership elections, the relationship between MPs and members is hardly harmonious. In the 2001 Conservative leadership race, Iain Duncan Smith won with 60.7 per cent of the membership, despite just 32.5 per cent of MPs supporting his candidacy. A similar chasm was created fourteen years later when Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader with the support of 59.5 per cent of members despite being nominated by 36 MPs.

The public certainly feels disconnected from today's candidates. A YouGov poll found that only 13 per cent of the public would prefer Rishi Sunak to any of the other candidates, with 28 per cent unsure and 38 per cent supporting candidates not even in the race. Allowing ordinary citizens to vote in these elections would reconnect people to politics and parties. Voters should be allowed to support their local MP to help Britain's national interest.

Recent leadership elections in all parties have proven just how unrepresentative our leaders are, and how broken the system of MPs/membership is. Letting the voters decide in a fair and representative system will not only result in more accountable leaders but will strengthen democracy.

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