Meet the people determined to bring about political change: Annie Mitchell, Newton Abbot

Some of the volunteers for the Newton Abbot Primary. Annie Mitchell is second from the left.

Many of our readers will, by now, be familiar with the concept of the political primary: a process designed to resolve the tragedy of seats with an overall progressive majority yet predicted to return a Conservative MP (on a minority vote) because the progressive vote is split. The idea being pioneered in South Devon (formerly Totnes constituency) clearly has application elsewhere. The three co-founders (of whom I am one) have made the entire Primary ‘kit’ available to the 50 plus constituencies across England which fall into the category popularly known as ‘progressive tragedy’ seats.

A team in the Devon constituency of Newton Abbot has adopted the process with enthusiasm, determined to remove the unpopular MP, Anne-Marie Morris. Polling for the LibDems and Labour has swung around a bit, and there is a strong possibility that Anne-Marie Morris will win again on a minority of the vote. A majority of constituents support progressive parties, but their vote is split, with no clear tactical vote and that is why the Primary is needed.

People are hungry for guidance on how best to vote to stop Morris. The Primary will help resolve ambiguity over who to back and have the massive advantage of mobilising the community to engage with the political process and take back their power as voters, parking any ‘tribal’ loyalties to ensure they get an MP who better represents their shared values.

To paraphrase the Green Party candidate for Kenilworth, Zoe Leventhal KC, it’s high time that the voice of constituencies was heard in Westminster, rather than Westminster’s voice being heard in constituencies. Politicians need reminding that they work for us but also that they cannot hide behind the fascistic mantra of ‘the will of the people.’

Here at West Country Voices, we are running a series of interviews with the volunteers who are devoting much time and energy to organising a primary. Maybe what Annie has to say will chime with you. Good! Maybe your constituency needs a Primary to save it from tragedy? Maybe you live in one of the constituencies where a Primary is already up and running and you would like to join in? Great! You are needed! You will find links at the end of the article. Do, please, get involved!

1) What prompted you to get involved in organising the Primary? Have you been politically active before now? In what way?

“I feel I cannot let yet another election go by in which I failed to take an active part because I cannot fully get behind any one of our political parties. I see politics in the UK and beyond as increasingly and dangerously polarised and overly simplified, when we desperately need cooperation, mutual understanding and tolerance of complexity.

“We are in an appalling environmental situation globally because of the uneven balance of power between the haves and the have-nots, with corruption, greed and denial fuelling increasing oppression of those who are most vulnerable. The power of oily money and vested interests is silencing and dividing those who would care for a liveable future. It seems we are moving dangerously close to fascism.

“As a psychologist with a long career as an academic, researcher, educator and health practitioner, I am very aware of the evidence ( such as all the good work by Sir Michael Marmot and Professor Richard Wilkinson) that our individual and collective health is dependent on fairness and equality, and that achieving these is less about individual behaviour change and much more about developing and delivering good policies at a structural level. This requires long term strategic change which cannot be achieved in a fractured, first past the post, short term and divisive political context.

“I see that people ( most worryingly young people) are disenchanted with politics at a time when good politics are desperately needed – and so we have to find imaginative and accessible ways to re-engage people.

“With a busy career, my political action has hitherto been confined to activism within my profession (for example as a community psychologist with the organisation Psychologists for Social Change whose catch phrase is ‘equality is the best therapy’ ), as a climate activist who co-founded XR Psychologists, and through teaching, writing, journal editing and committee engagement to push climate and environmental awareness at organisational level in our professional body (the British Psychology Society.

“But now, as a grandmother, I feel this is not sufficient. I want my grandchildren to know when they are older that those who care about their future did all they could to secure it. Engagement with our local climate action groups (XR Teignbridge and Action for Climate Teignbridge) has opened my eyes to the contributions good psychology could bring to, and learn from, community efforts.”

2) What do you hope to achieve?

I hope to achieve the ousting of our Tory MP in Newton Abbot, increased political engagement by local people who want a healthy place to live and enjoy and be happy in, more participatory democracy – including active use of citizens’ assemblies – and a culture change towards greater inclusivity, mutual respect and prioritising care over selfish entitlement.

How has the idea been received on the street so far?

“I was delighted with the thoughtful responses of everyone who agreed to engage with our democracy meter. Many people preferred to walk by with their gaze averted – the pressures people are under are clear to see. We had some excellent conversations. A highlight for me included talking with a housing officer who wants structural change so that people who have had life traumas are not further traumatised by the impossibility of their finding decent affordable housing. I was impressed by the curiosity and concern of a 17 year old who said she didn’t understand but wanted to learn about politics and that all her peers are being influenced largely by the Reform Party.”

What are the key challenges you face?

“We are a largely elderly, white and middle class group, because we are the ones with some time and resources to invest. How can we reach and include others from more diverse backgrounds?”

When would you like the election to be?

“May.” [Amen to that!!]

What do you consider to be progressive values?

Love, fairness, equality, creativity, mutual respect, tolerance of complexity & uncertainty, championing human rights, belief in working together for resilience and adaptation to change.

If the Primary process manages to cause what would be a major upset in your seat, how will you celebrate?

“Hmm – I hadn’t thought about this. Good question- let’s ask people on the streets how they would want to celebrate? Maybe, for example, with a special event at our forthcoming Arts for ACT festival, if the election happens before the summer. Maybe with a bring-and-share party in the park to which we invite all the local charities and progressive parties.”

What’s your message to WCV readers?

“Everyone’s story matters. Let’s spend more time listening to one another and understanding where we all come from. A liveable planet depends on our care and attention for one another as well as for the other species with whom we co-exist 0n our beautiful planet.

There is no one single answer to making our lives better but together we are stronger, fairer, healthier and happier. Don’t despair, despite experiencing and witnessing pain, sorrow and suffering. When we hold in mind the future generations whose health & happiness depend on our decisions today, our lives do feel more meaningful and we can rekindle hope.

For more information and to get involved, visit Newton Abbot Primary’s website.

To find out if your seat is a candidate for a primary, visit

South Devon Primary’s ‘democracy fortnight’ town hall events kick off in Totnes on March 2. The venue is sold out, but if you live in the constituency and are registered to vote there are still seats available in Paignton, Modbury, Dartmouth and Brixham. Kingsbridge and South Brent are close to selling out so be quick if you want to go there!