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“Putting members first” – the easy empty rhetoric of Labour internal elections

What exactly does “putting members first” mean? Sure, it gives the impression of warmth towards your voters in elections to Labour’s national executive and national policy forum. But first before whom?

Before the public? Who thinks that? We’re not here for ourselves but to bring about social and economic change which will, in our view and based on some reasonable evidence, benefit the public.

Or before our leaders and elected representatives? Now that would be more interesting. Giving members more power, influence, control over their party, over its policy, over the way it functions. Giving them their party back. But, of course, “putting members first” doesn’t actually say that.

I was prompted into writing this by Richard Angell, deputy director of Progress, calling for support for a candidate on their slate on the basis that she “puts members first“. Progress supports primaries, aka “putting non-members first“. As it happens, I suspect that the candidate concerned doesn’t support primaries, but what did he mean?

There are two possibilities, and they apply to anyone making the claim:

  1. They’ve had a hard week’s tweeting and it’s hard to find something different to say. They didn’t really mean anything.
  2. They’re appealing to the centre ground and need to say something which sounds good but won’t alienate anyone. They didn’t really mean anything.

Don’t get taken in. Even if you’re in the centre ground. Where does a candidate really stand on issues that matter to you? Look for what you really want in your candidates, not meaningless drivel.

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