Monday, 26 September 2011

Parameters of Party: The Inner Ring

When Boris entered the room, Prince Andrey was listening to an old general, wearing his decorations, who was reporting something to Prince Andrey, with an expression of soldierly servility on his purple face. "Alright. Please wait!" he said to the general, speaking in Russian with the French accent which he used when he spoke with contempt. The moment he noticed Boris he stopped listening to the general who trotted imploringly after him and begged to be heard, while Prince Andrey turned to Boris with a cheerful smile and a nod of the head. Boris now clearly understood-what he had already guessed-that side by side with the system of discipline and subordination which were laid down in the Army Regulations, there existed a different and more real system-the system which compelled a tightly laced general with a purple face to wait respectfully for his turn while a mere captain like Prince Andrey chatted with a mere second lieutenant like Boris. Boris decided at once that he would be guided not by the official system but by this other unwritten system. (Tolstoy, War and Peace)

I've been reading Mark Forskitt's election blog in which he discusses the idea of a "secret party" in the States

There was a question about a secret party  in the house. Both  Deputy Gorst and Mr Farnham denied it existed.  My 9 year old heard the programme  on the radio and when I got home was very keen to tell me that if it was secret they either would not know, or were in it and would have to keep silent to keep it secret. Good logic my boy.

This has also been mentioned by Trevor Pitman that " whilst there may be 53 democratically elected Members in the Chamber the only ones that matter are a small and secretive inner circle". And Senator Ben Shenton complained when he was health minister of an small coterie of Ministers, including Philip Ozouf and Alan Maclean, who would meet separately to discuss matters.

In this respect, I think it is useful to consider the work by Paul Sanders on "The British Channel Islands under German occupation, 1940-1945", where he discusses what he terms the "parameters of collaboration". It is very difficult, he says, to determine where co-operation begins and collaboration starts, which is why he wants to open up the discussion, and look at different kinds of relationships with the occupying forces.

Likewise, I think that talk of a "secret party" may not be the best language to use - it suggests, for a start, that there is a formal alliance. Graham Power describes a meeting after which he made notes immediately following, in which he found an "experience of the formation of an "inner circle" of politicised senior civil servants loyal to the Chief Minister." The Napier report, however, found "no evidence of conspiracy".

If we think of a "secret party" as some kind of secret cabal, meeting in secret to decide matters, and make policy, with its own agenda, then I do not think we are not going to find much evidence of that kind of "secret party". But if we think of it as a looser arrangement, a much more informal one, then I think there are much better grounds for its existence.

C.S. Lewis quotes the passage from Tolstoy with which I began this article, and notes that there are two quite different hierarchies at work; one is formal, and the other is much harder to pin down. Is it a "secret party"? Well, not quiet, because it doesn't have the formal attributes we associate with party, but that doesn't mean it does not exist, and does not exert an influence commensurate or even greater than a formal party:
In the passage I have just read from Tolstoy, the young second lieutenant Boris Dubretskoi discovers that there exist in the army two different systems or hierarchies. The one is printed in some little red book and anyone can easily read it up. It also remains constant. A general is always superior to a colonel, and a colonel to a captain. The other is not printed anywhere. Nor is it even a formally organised secret society with officers and rules which you would be told after you had been admitted. You are never formally and explicitly admitted by anyone. You discover gradually, in almost indefinable ways, that it exists and that you are outside it; and then later, perhaps, that you are inside it.

There are what correspond to passwords, but they are too spontaneous and informal. A particular slang, the use of particular nicknames, an allusive manner of conversation, are the marks. But it is not so constant. It is not easy, even at a given moment, to say who is inside and who is outside. Some people are obviously in and some are obviously out, but there are always several on the borderline. And if you come back to the same Divisional Headquarters, or Brigade Headquarters, or the same regiment or even the same company, after six weeks' absence, you may find this secondary hierarchy quite altered.

There are no formal admissions or expulsions. People think they are in it after they have in fact been pushed out of it, or before they have been allowed in: this provides great amusement for those who are really inside. It has no fixed name. The only certain rule is that the insiders and outsiders call it by different names. From inside it may be designated, in simple cases, by mere enumeration: it may be called "You and Tony and me." When it is very secure and comparatively stable in membership it calls itself "we." When it has to be expanded to meet a particular emergency it calls itself "all the sensible people at this place." From outside, if you have despaired of getting into it, you call it "That gang" or "they" or "So-and-so and his set" or "The Caucus" or "The Inner Ring." If you are a candidate for admission you probably don't call it anything. To discuss it with the other outsiders would make you feel outside yourself. And to mention talking to the man who is inside, and who may help you if this present conversation goes well, would be madness.

Lewis is speaking to students at University, and he comments that "I can assure you that in whatever hospital, inn of court, diocese, school, business, or college you arrive after going down, you will find the Rings-what Tolstoy calls the second or unwritten systems."

And that these exist in Government is almost certain, but the lack of formal status means that an honest answer would be that no "secret party" exists in that sense.

None of this is that new. Looking at the history of the eighteenth century, Lewis Namier notes that there was often categories used in historical explanation of an "inner cabinet" and an "outer cabinet", but that was beset with the same kind of problems that "secret party" has for us today. He wrote:

It has left us a dangerous terminological legacy or, more precisely, has bequeathed to us a bad misnomer. 'Inner Cabinet' and 'Outer Cabinet' have become accepted terms for the eighteenth-century situation, whereby a false analogy with similar bodies in our own time has been established. Even now there is good ground to demur against using the term 'Inner Cabinet', because it tends to endow that fleeting shadowy group with a too formal and well-nigh official character. Some expression like 'inner ring' or 'directing group' would seem preferable.

That didn't mean that this "inner ring" did not exist - he notes that in the 1740s there was an inner ring consisting of the Duke of Newcastle, Henry Pelham, and Lord Chancellor Hardwicke.

Now some discussions among groups of like minded individuals are inevitable, and friendships are formed on that basis, but equally, it can lead in politics to the exclusion of others, and informal strategies and approaches which can operate against the more open and wider discussions of issues, as the "inner ring" or "directing group" pursues its own agenda, one part of which, of course, is obviously to keep them in a position of power. The move towards open elections for Chief Minister is a good way of thwarting that desire, and there can be little doubt that attempts will be made to rescind it as soon as possible.

Lewis saw that "inner rings" were to some extent inevitable, and were morally neutral, although the desire to be inside one could be corrosive, eating away at the integrity of those who were members, so that "the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things".

This is because an inner ring confers power over others, access to information not available to others and the power to exclude others. It needs a special determination to avoid using this kind of privilege to abuse power. But this will not be the kind of abuse of power that is clearly illegal, just unethical.

Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink or a cup of coffee, disguised as a triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still-just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf [naïve], or a prig-the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play: something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand; something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about; but something, says your new friend, which "we"-and at the word "we" you try not to blush for mere pleasure-something "we always do."

(2) The Inner Ring, C.S. Lewis
(2) Crossroads of Power: Essays on Eighteenth-Century England. Lewis Namier, 1963

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looking for the 'Inner Party', 'Elitist Influences' and suchlike is comparable to looking for the Cheshire Cat. You see the teeth and the big smile, you briefly see the face......yet you can't somehow seem to retain the whole picture it is elusive.

I think the Jurats are the Cheshire Cats. They are the ones who keep the others in line acting as 'whips'. They are the constant factor and the ones with a great deal of influence. Although the influence is reciprocal and they feed of one another, in order to keep the 'status quo'.

Just MHO!