One can try to understand, perhaps, the thrill of being part of an invisible network and recipient of wordless acknowledgment, but it’s also important to understand that this is how power is perpetuated. Equality legislation, and audits on gender pay gaps, ethnicity and disability, – within companies and public authorities – all aim to stamp out the informal transfer of power through social networks, in favour of appointment through genuine merit. But how can that happen if favours are dispensed behind closed doors, or even when there is the lingering belief that unseen processes give people we cannot identify an advantage. It certainly can’t happen when only specific groups can benefit. The council official who called knew very well I wasn’t a Screaming Trot. Being both female and Catholic, my entry would be unlikely. While a small handful of groupuscules outside the main organisation now admit women, my Catholicism would also be seen by most as pretty much incompatible with shooting all the bourgeoisie.
It is, of course, questionable in a free society whether it is right to dictate to individuals with whom they can associate. Some association with criminal intent is proscribed by law and punishable by the courts, but in all other cases people are free to choose. That said, it is well within the rights of society to shape the nature of the decisions people freely make. If Marxists won’t be completely open about their membership, should we not say that in all cases membership is incompatible with public service? Asking public servants to either confirm they are not a member of a revgolutionary organisation or to be open when they are won’t fully excise the backroom deals or the stench of privilege. The Labour Party has attempted for many years to impose such a stricture, with apparently limited effect. Still, it would signal intent.
And we have ample reason to be suspicious. Chumminess, social connection, camaraderie: all of these are in good supply at sports and dining clubs with doors on the high street and windows that peer out on to the 21st century. Momentum, tell me this: if you truly huddle in secret to no malign end and with no professed benefit unavailable elsewhere, what is the point?