Rather missing the point about the idea of civil society itself

These bastions of masculine entertainment can pose a danger to open democracy. It is the gentlemen’s clubs of London where politicians, bankers and hedge-fund managers meet to do deals and form secret alliances. Because membership lists are not disclosed to the public it is impossible to tell when a minister proposes a policy that favours the interests of members of his club. Neither is the public privy to the terms of the sacred oaths they may have sworn. And in a court of law shouldn’t the ordinary litigant know whether a judge is a member of the same club as the opposing party? There are a myriad of potential conflicts of interest rooted in the secret membership of gentlemen’s clubs.

In the City and among our professions, where senior offices are dominated by privately educated bankers, hedge fund managers, lawyers and accountants, such clandestine meetings and associations create perceptions of injustice.

So what can be done? In Britain it is legal to form a private members’ club whose membership is based on restrictive characteristics. There are women-only and ethnic-minority clubs which do not admit men or those of a different ethnicity. The government’s own guidance on the Equality Act says that while it is unlawful for a private club to discriminate against, harass or victimise an existing or potential member it is lawful to restrict membership to people who share a particular characteristic. This is not true for political parties, which cannot block membership on the basis of race or sex.

What is required is the compulsory publication of a register of members so that the public can be confident that the business of government and justice is not being done in the secret smoke-filled dining rooms of gentlemen’s clubs. A more transparent approach might also open up some of these gentlemen’s clubs to more adult attitudes towards women.

Sigh.

Which club blackballed Robert Verkaik then?

Let us assume that everything he says is correct, entirely right. Now let us go on to think a little more. One of the great distinctions of English (a little more English than British, but only just perhaps) was that anyone could set up a club to do anything they liked without having to ask anyone. We recall the exceptions to this (Tolpuddle Martyrs perhaps, I think that was something to do with secret oaths in law?) and all too rarely remember the joys of it. The Friendly Societies, Boy Scouts, brass bands, Morris dancers, layaway plans for the bus and beer trip to the seaside and so on. All those things which do actually make up civil society. This is not company law where privileges extend to hte form of organisation, this is just the existence of an organisation itself. The English/British attitude was one of benign neglect over who may do what.

In contrast to, say, France, where I believe it is true that no Frenchman could set up a club or organisation of more than 25 members without permission from Paris – a rule which stuck until well into the 1950s. Not sure whether the details there are apocryphal but the basic point is true.

Or, as we might put it in the vernacular. Fuck off matey. For we’re English and therefore free, one of the defining points of which is that we consenting adults get to do what we want to do, with who we want to do it and when, without asking permission from some knobhead like you. Nor even informing you – it’s our life, not yours to manage for us, geddit?

15 comments on “Rather missing the point about the idea of civil society itself

  1. It is the gentlemen’s clubs of London where politicians, bankers and hedge-fund managers meet to do deals and form secret alliances.

    I’m pretty sure that no gentlemen’s club worth joining would let the likes of me get past the doorman, but I’m equally sure this is a fantasia of bullshit.

    Because it’s not actually nineteen-canteen and Bertie Wooster was rapidly becoming an anachronism even when Wodehouse first put pen to paper in 1915.

    The Guardian’s attempted moral panic at male freedom of association does prove, though, the CH maxim that feminism is about maximal constraints on male behaviour.

  2. In the age of encrypted communications and burner phones, I doubt much secret business is done within the walls of private members clubs.

  3. Many of the guests who enjoyed the hospitality of the now notorious Presidents Club annual charity dinner are also paying members of London’s popular gentlemen’s clubs.

    What a splendid opening sentence. He might as well write “Here be gobbledygook”. How many is “many”? How does he know? Who are they? What plotting do they enjoy most and where? The Athanaeum? The Reform? Or something more humdrum like the RAC?

    If it’s sedition you want, you would be better off looking at mosques than at the temples of Brown Windsor soup and mulligatawny.

  4. Do real life participants in conspiracies –and often murderous ones–like the Clintons and the FBI belong to London Gentleman’s Clubs?

  5. Such a fantasy that one might prevent people from conspiring by curtailing everyone’s freedom of association. Don’t they know their Adam Smith?

  6. I wonder what kinds of private members clubs Macron and his Mumsie belong to? I mean how did he just come out of nowhere and become President of France?

  7. It’d be interesting to see the names of these awful harassers rather than the accusation that every man present was guilty.

    Do we remember the video from a couple of years ago of an attractive young woman walking through New York for eight hours and being verbally and physically accosted? Every single one of the men who harassed her was non-white.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1XGPvbWn0A

  8. The secret deals are now called ‘lobbying’ and it is done in the over-priced restaurants of Washington and Brussels (and of course Davos). In other words the money goes to where the power is and it isn’t in St James. The only people who now do ‘deals’ with UK politicians are property developers, who as it happens were rather over-represented on the President’s Club guest list.

    Mind you, over the last decade, the regulators and lawyers have swarmed over the pantomime villains ‘bankers and hedge fund managers’ to such an extent that property developers are pretty much the only people able to accept any corporate hospitality these days – apart from the lawyers and regulators obviously. And journalists.

  9. “politicians, bankers and hedge-fund managers meet to do deals and form secret alliances”: ah, it’s them Illuminati. Or maybe the Chews.

  10. ‘To drain the swamp of men-only clubs there must be a public register’

    First, they registered sex offenders. I said nothing, as I am not a sex offender.

  11. “Which club blackballed Robert Verkaik then?”
    I believe it was the Beano Club, Tim. Or it might have been the Blue Peter. Either way, it seems to have left lasting scars on his psyche, poor chap.

  12. Robert Berkaik *knows* that “Many of the guests who enjoyed the hospitality of the now notorious Presidents Club annual charity dinner are also paying members of London’s popular gentlemen’s clubs”. despite nobody knowing who are members of those exclusive clubs. Yeah! Sell me Brooklyn Bridge!

  13. “It is the gentlemen’s clubs of London where politicians, bankers and hedge-fund managers meet to do deals and form secret alliances.”

    Ah, English. ‘Gentlemen’s club’ means something very different here were its pretty darn hard to make any sort of deal with the loud music accompanying the distractions on stage.

  14. I like the idea that the wealthy & powerful are conducting illegal deals while watching high-class strippers. It’s the sort of thing a James Bond baddie would do.

  15. ‘These bastions of masculine entertainment can pose a danger to open democracy.’

    Wut is open democracy?

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