Primaries are back in the news in Australia following media reports of their use by the British conservatives to endorse a candidate. Primaries seem to attract sympathy from the left judging by Larvatus Pradeo. I doubt however that the current uninspiring quality of Labor MPs would be much improved by primaries, although some of the left interest in primaries reflects the envy of bloggers who dream of being Labor or Green MPs. Indeed primaries might make Labor MPs more susceptible to business pressure given the financial resources required to win a primary ballot, business groups would fiance more conservative Labor candidates. The old conservative or classical liberal concern with unintended consequences has much to recommend it here, it is striking that the Australian advocates of primaries largely ignore the American example. It is an American work Victor Key’s Southern Politics that remains the best case for disciplined parties. There once was a time when many on the left proposed a much more radical critique of parliamentary democracy: for example the work of Carole Pateman. This has largely been lost sight of. Last week I lectured on Marxism in Modern Political Ideologies and I was struck by how the unit materials gave little attention to Marx’s argument against representative democracy: that it represented another form of alienation where individuals surrendered their powers of self-government to a bureaucratic state separate from themselves. Marx wanted to establish collective self-government. This critique may seem irrelevant or dangerous but it actually holds some lessons for contemporary social democracy. How can left parties involve their supporters in public sector decision making? Most human services employees vote Labor, whether directly or by Green preferences, yet do Labor governments draw on their insights in policy and administration? The early Labor Party was very concerned with government administration. The trail of human services disasters under Labor governments suggests that Labor would benefit by empowering employees on the ground. The global financial crisis has increased the executive power of governments as they have argued they have to act decisively with limited time for scrutiny, accountability has been minimised. We need to think about incentives and structures rather than individuals.